Michael Jackson | Did Judge Lift Jacko's Gag Order? | 'American Idol' | 'The Passion' | Disney

Why Accuser's Dean Waited

Jeffrey Alpert, an instructor at the famed Hollywood High School for the Performing Arts, caused a sensation today. It came out in cross examination that Alpert — when he was the dean in March 2003 at John Burroughs Middle School in Los Angeles — asked Michael Jackson's accuser if anything had happened between them. The boy, on the stand today, told defense attorney Tom Mesereau that twice he told Alpert nothing had happened.

This pushes Alpert into the spotlight of this case, like it or not. I'm told that he still has not been subpoenaed but will testify if that happens.

Already arguments are being made about the timing of this witness, and questions are asked why he waited so long to come forward. His attorney, Tom Forsyth (search), says that Alpert is a private person and that he wanted to see if the Jackson trial was really going to take place. Once it started, he contacted the Los Angeles Bar Association and was referred to Forsyth. He did not already have an attorney.

Forsyth says he made Alpert's information available to both sides in the case. He was actually a little surprised today when the boy readily admitted to remembering the exact same conversation.

Mesereau also had the boy confirm on the stand today that he has been something of a disciplinary problem. He has also been a vocal critic of the teachers in his school.

Ironically — and we told you this exclusively when the story first broke in November 2003 — the boy was attending John Burroughs Middle School under a false pretense. His mother used her boyfriend's address to get her kids into Burroughs rather than send them to school in their own East Los Angeles district.

The mother, as I reported in those early days, met her boyfriend, a U.S. Army major, at a Sea Cadets program for her sons. Initially, according to my sources, she cleaned his apartment in exchange for use of his address on St. Andrews Place in the mid-Wilshire section of Los Angeles. Eventually the relationship became romantic. The two had a child last year and married.

Apparently Alpert and perhaps other teachers will testify to the accusing boy's personality — and that he did not become belligerent or aggressive after his experience with Jackson but that he was always that way. That would jibe with a story this column reported last year about the boy's time on the set of "Rush Hour 2." Director Brett Ratner recalled that when he asked the boy to vacate his director's chair, the 13-year-old told him off with four-letter words.

This would also line up with an interview comedy club owner Jamie Masada gave to a British reporter on Feb. 4, 2003 — two days before the Martin Bashir special aired in the United States. He said the boy was not gullible and would absolutely report immediately anything that might seem wrong about Jackson.

Did The Judge Lift Jacko's Gag Order?

It happened late on Friday, and nearly everyone missed it.

But wrapped up in Judge Rodney Melville's other decisions in court concerning Michael Jackson, he may have rescinded his own gag order.

Melville, responding to a motion made by the defense, allowed Jackson to start making rebuttal videos and sell them outside the United States.

Of course, the first time Jackson made such a video was in February 2003 in response to Martin Bashir's "Living With Michael Jackson." The video's producer, Marc Schaffel, is suing him for non-payment.

In court on Friday, Jackson's lawyer Brian Oxman said that there was a lot of money to be made from foreign sales of such a video.

Since Oxman is also the lawyer for Randy Jackson — Michael's brother, who has taken over the King of Pop's finances — the mystery of how Randy Jackson came up with the money to pay the Neverland staff last week is now solved.

"Right now, rebutting his critics is a prime way of earning a living," Oxman told the judge. "Enormous money is being offered for rebuttal programs, and we'd like to take advantage of that."

That was on Friday afternoon. Good news travels fast.

On Sunday night, news reports in Australia said there would be a fierce bidding among the country's three networks for the rights to a Jackson interview.

Ka-ching! Thanks to Melville, Michael Jackson is back in business.

Forget CBS News' report that Michael obtained a $1 million line of credit from Bank of America. According to the terms of his agreement with the bank, Michael is prohibited from borrowing any more money.

It's evident that Randy Jackson has already struck deals outside the U.S. for interviews and was awaiting the judge's ruling. This is supported by Randy Jackson's frantic claims last week that he would come up with the needed funds.

Unfortunately, Randy's sudden windfall, added to the judge's ruling, may force Michael to take a closer look at his books.

But back to Melville: He has now opened the door to everyone involved in the case to sell their stories outside the U.S. Of course, the judge is being a bit naive about modern media, because there is no longer such thing as a locally published story.

Thanks to the Internet, all stories are now global. Take the various stories about Prince Charles that are banned in Britain. They are broadcast in the U.S. and show up across the ocean in the matter of hours.

Exiting 'American Idol' Stars Wising Up?

Mario Vasquez looked like he was going to clean up on "American Idol" this season.

Then last night he announced he was quitting for "personal reasons." Those reasons could be an illness at home concerning either his mother or aunt.

Whoever is ill, Vasquez is already back in New York. Speculation that he might not want to sign with the show's 19 Entertainment was scotched by his unofficial publicist, a woman named Hannah who spoke with me last night.

"That would have been great for him," Hannah said.

It's clear that Vasquez didn't think through the ramifications of his decision since, after leaving, he still wanted to remain on good terms with "American Idol."

Maybe the bloom is off the rose now as "American Idol" finalists become savvier about the record business. Automatically becoming part of Simon Fuller's empire and a slave for seven years to his rule may not look as tantalizing as it once did.

It's one thing to become one of Clive Davis' stars like Clay Aiken, Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard or Fantasia Barrino. It's quite another to be a runner-up like Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray or Diana DeGarmo.

As one publicist said to me last night: "Maybe they're finally wising up."

So that leaves 11 finalists. As proven in the past, a "sure-fire" winner pulling out doesn't mean that a great performer won't be discovered.

When belter Frenchie Davis left last year, Fantasia emerged as a huge talent. Now she has a hit album and a huge future.

One of those remaining contestants will likely come out of this the same way. And Vasquez, for whatever reason, will take a different route in show business.

No More Passion For 'The Passion'

Isn't hubris grand?

Mel Gibson sent a re-cut version of "The Passion of the Christ" out into 954 theaters this weekend. Roughly 10 people on average showed up at each screening, and the total take for three days was $240,000.

It's clear that "Passion" fever is over. At least the people who liked it so much the first time obviously didn't want the blood and guts cut out of it. That's what Gibson removed this time around, but even its biggest followers ignored the theatrical re-release.

It costs a lot to put a movie onto 954 screens. The cost of prints is astronomical, not to mention advertising and promotion.

So expect no such "Passion" this coming Friday, unless Gibson plans to gamble more of the money he made the first time around on this misguided release.

Mouse Bites Self

Disney chose Robert Iger to replace Michael Eisner as the head of the company yesterday.

That was some executive search they conducted, since Iger was Eisner's choice as successor and was as certain to get the call as Mickey is to get a date with Minnie.

I'm told Iger has made the negotiations between Disney and Miramax go a little easier recently. I don't know what effect his appointment will have on Pixar.

The fact remains that both studios, suppliers of Disney's hits and Oscar nominations, are leaving no matter what. Or, that is, Miramax's creative people are all leaving, with Disney keeping the name to bat around like a cat toy.

Some industry insiders say that Iger is the man who could fix Disney's image problem overnight.

He could give Bob and Harvey Weinstein back the Miramax name and put their library under the Touchstone heading. He could make friends with Pixar's Steve Jobs. He could be a peacemaker extraordinaire, and Disney would suddenly be a happy place.

Imagine the support Iger would get in-house, and in the industry, if he were the anti-Eisner.

In the case of Pixar, for example, Disney could enjoy years of profits from well-made Pixar-produced sequels to "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo" and "Monsters, Inc."

Under the current agreement, Disney is instead set to produce "faux" sequels itself, and the movie-going public will be able to tell the difference.

As for Miramax, the gesture of allowing the Weinsteins to keep the name that honors their parents Miriam and Max would speak volumes for a "family values" company — and possibly lead to lucrative partnerships in the future.