I don't know why Katie Couric is interested in taking over the anchor chair on the "CBS Evening News." How boring! It turns out she's got other, more hidden talents, and she showed them last night at her annual fundraising dinner for her colon cancer charity.
I told you in this space last week that Katie was planning a Motown tribute night with lots of special guests. As a favor, I did hold back that her surprise star would be Sting, and that Smokey Robinson was coming in to finish the night and give it real Motown legitimacy.
The lavish evening, produced by music great Ken Ehrlich, really was sensational. In fact, the music was so good and the vibe so positive that it somehow managed to nullify the creepy and abusive way Lou Palumbo's Elite Security treated me when I arrived.
I still don't know why the Waldorf doesn't hire Chuck Garelick's GSS or Mike Zimet's security agencies, the two most respected in town. But that's another story.
People so love Katie Couric that 1,500 of them — including Connie Chung and Maury Povich, Ron Perelman, Whoopi Goldberg (who made a cameo appearance on stage in pajamas) and CBS's Harry Smith — were jammed into the Waldorf's Grand Ballroom for this memorial to her late husband, Jay Monahan.
But this is what I'm afraid of: the "Today" show begins this morning at 7 a.m., and the last I saw Katie was in a suite above the Waldorf around 1 a.m., saying goodbye to friends who attended a swell after party. She had lost her voice, but she was still — can we say it? Perky.
It's too bad that Katie's friends and supporters aren't smart, talented or successful. Just in that Waldorf suite, Sting, Elvis Costello, "sometime-kinda beau" artist Stephen Hannock, music manager Kathy Schenker, Smokey Robinson, Ehrlich, the evening's music producer and band leader Nile Rodgers and comedian Caroline Rhea were just a few who came to congratulate on a job well done.
But I've skipped the show, which I hope was taped but I fear was not. There were just some sensational performances, including Sting on Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed Delivered," Costello really doing justice to "Ain't that Peculiar," Mary J. Blige swallowing and spitting out "If I Were Your Woman" with ferocity and Chaka Khan in her best voice in years soaring through "What's Going On?"
She brought the mostly white audience to its knees — a fact that fed Jimmy Fallon's best line of the night when he asked everyone to sing along to "Endless Love" with him and Tina Fey. "Just the white people," he said, meaning everyone. Fallon and Fey's number was splendid, right out of Nichols and May's old playbook — they should do more of it.
But then there was Tony Bennett, who followed Sting — not easy — by singing "For Once in My Life" out of the Stevie Wonder songbook. Bennett told the audience that he'd actually introduced the song in the '60s before a very young Stevie made his harmonica-driven hit version.
Bennett will be 80 in August, but let me tell you: his voice is more gorgeous than ever. In the middle of a night of power pop, he just took the microphone and transformed the event. Bravo!
There were some difficult moments, but with so many guests that's why you hire Nile Rodgers and his crack team of musicians and singers, including Fonzie Thornton and Silver Logan Sharpe.
James Taylor — who was supposed to sing "How Sweet It Is" — was not exactly right for Junior Walker's "I'm a Road Runner." John Legend was well-suited to the Temptations' "Just My Imagination," but Chris Botti's horn playing was a little disappointing after hearing Wallace Roney on the same stage two nights ago.
And then there was what you might call "real" Motown. Ashford & Simpson, who could have been more prominent since they wrote so many of the label's hits, delivered "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By" with soulful panache.
Michael McDonald, who's released two volumes of Motown albums, cannot be beat for his versions of the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "Baby I Need Your Loving." He got the staid, moneyed crowd off its feet for the first time with the Temptations "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
There were odd moments, especially when Katie's "Today" show comrade Matt Lauer, going off the cue cards, reminisced about trying to seduce a beautiful but clueless girl in his apartment while "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was playing in the background.
"I can't believe they made a record out of that raisin commercial," the girl told Matt, who grinned nostalgically as he recounted the episode. "She was very good-looking," Matt concluded, as if to say that made up for her not being bright.
Even in the fun, there were also a couple of strange digressions. When they asked all the survivor cancer patients to stand, and the doctors working on cancer research, their really bad tables became quickly evident.
The very first survivor who'd passed through Couric's Jay Monahan clinic, a New York city judge, had the absolutely worst and last seat at the back of the room, hidden by a post.
Another survivor, a major TV exec, was stashed with his wife in the third tier — and they paid for their tickets themselves, not their network.
But these are the things that are tweaked from year to year. At this point, Couric has got the big issues nailed down. She even chose Mary J. Blige's song — and it was a rare success for the hip-hop queen, who usually cannot do cover songs.
Maybe Katie is in the wrong business completely. Clive Davis, meet your new A&R woman.
Michael Jackson will pay up all back wages to his 60 or so employees today. Then he'll pay massive fines and fees associated with this mess.
His staff will not be allowed to return to Neverland without workmen's compensation, which he is said to be restoring. All of this will be done under the microscope of the California Department of Industrial Relations.
The DIR will not allow Jackson to fall behind on wages again, however. This time it was 12 weeks through today. Last time it was four weeks from Nov. 23-Dec. 23, 2005. And the insurance must be in place, although health insurance — which no longer exists — does not come under their purview.
The employees will have to decide if they can live without it. I am shocked no union organizers have to tried to get into Neverland.
Reports put the Neverland staff at 69, but that may be high. My sources say the number there is really 45. Then there are the employees at Jackson's family home, also on his payroll, plus his assistant Evvy Tavasci, two nephews and a couple of miscellaneous types. They all have to be paid now through today, although some can also be laid off now, too.
What really came out of this is that despite their loyalty to him, the more than 50 people and at least 60 families were just not important to Michael Jackson.
You can sing or talk about feeding children and saving the world, but all integrity is lost when you abandon that many hard-working, decent people.
For three months during a hard winter those people suffered, and no one in the Jackson family cared — especially Michael. He didn't return to deal with the problem, but sloughed it off on an accountant and his sister. And sources tell me the Janet footed the bill.
Does the world really want more promises of charity from Michael Jackson now? I don't think so.