I've actually heard Michael Jackson's charity single, "What More Can I Give?." It was in rough-cut form, but I can tell you this: Jackson intends this tune to be his new "We Are the World." He sure managed to gather up a lot of stars for the recording. The big surprise is that Mariah Carey sings — actually wails away — on the record and sounds great.
The single begins with Celine Dion speaking, followed by Michael and a cast of popstars including Luther Vandross, Usher, Hanson, Ricky Martin, Carlos Santana, Reba McIntyre, Tom Petty, Destiny's Child and their lead singer Beyonce Knowles, the Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter, his little brother Aaron Carter, Mya, Luis Miguel, Ziggy Marley, Gloria Estefan, Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman and Skakira. 'N Sync isn't on the record yet, but is set to be added Saturday in Washingon. Britney Spears will not be on the record.
I will tell you that the one vocalist other than Mariah and Celine who really stands out in the current mix is Luther Vandross. The producer of the single is Mark Shaffel, who works for Jackson on various projects at NeverLand Studios.
There is one possible drawback that critics may find: The song's chorus sounds very much like Michael's "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" from his 1987 Bad album. Then again, this is a problem that plagues Jackson's entire new Invincible album, too.
"What More Can I Give?" will be available in English and Spanish versions, and will most likely be released as a CD single by Sony Music. However, the deal with McDonalds has fallen through, according to my source. "McDonald's had to have the single in their stores and then out again by Thanksgiving," the source says, "which would have meant they needed the master yesterday — and that couldn't happen."
Another McDonald's-type deal may be in the wings, and could be announced on Monday. Jackson, along with with all of the guests, will perform the song on Sunday at the "United We Stand/What More Can I Give?" concert in Washington D.C.
Jay-Z made big news yesterday. He admitted in open court here in New York: "I stabbed Lance Rivera." Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, has the no. 1 album in the country this month with The Blueprint. But this is a different atmosphere than ever before. And though Jay-Z has paid off his victim, his admission of guilt may get him a worse sentence than three year's probation.
He may wind up getting banned from MTV. Judy McGrath, the head of MTV, told me last night that if Jay-Z indeed pled guilty to stabbing the record producer in a nightclub: "We would back off of him."
In other words, Jay-Z's videos will probably not be welcome at MTV during this time when McGrath is preaching tolerance on her influential network. Indeed, she was honored last night by the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York for her substantial efforts to promote peace — and not just since the Sept. 11 tragedies. Last year McGrath set aside 17 straight hours of programming for hate crime education.
I asked her what had happened when Snoop Doggy Dogg, another popular MTV video artist, went to prison. "I don't think he had an album out then, thank god," McGrath said. "But if Jay-Z has admitted to the crime, then we'll have to take a look at the situation."
By pleading guilty yesterday — and by paying off record producer Rivera with a tidy $300,000 — Jay-Z avoided a possible 15 years in jail on the second-degree felony assault charge. He will be sentenced on Dec. 6 to the probation.
McGrath, whom I have not had the chance to talk to before, is quite charming and a big fan — after 20 years — of the videos her network plays. She likes Staind and Five for Fighting, and mentioned that her new favorite video is by Ryan Adams. It was shot around the World Trade Center a couple of days before the explosions.
As for Michael Jackson's "You Rock MY World" short film, she said: "We're playing it, but we haven't had a strong response to it." And that was being diplomatic.
Another honoree of the American Museum last night was Conan O’Brien, late night talk show host for NBC. His show is taped at the NBC building in Rockefeller Center.
But last Friday when O'Brien was preparing to tape, NBC News announced that one of its employees had opened a letter containing anthrax. All hell broke loose, and O'Brien was suddenly without guests.
"They had Emeril Lagasse and Steve Harvey in New York, but they refused to come to the building," a source close to the show told me this week. "They were too scared."
O'Brien's executive producer Jeff Ross suddenly had his back against the wall. When I asked him about the situation last night, he said: "Luckily we had the Tenacious D, the group featuring Jack Black, so they did extra time. And we had Dr. Bob Arnot from NBC News come and explain anthrax poisoning to the audience."
Ross told me that a few other guests have cancelled either flying into New York or appearing on the show, but most have stuck to their commitments. "They all have movies and TV shows to promote, in the end."
Ross and O'Brien are in their ninth year together — hard to imagine since when they began the show had horrible press. But now Late Night with Conan O'Brien is a solid hit, and the pair can bask in their good fortune, talent and persistence.
By the way, O'Brien told the gathered media heavies at the dinner that years ago he thought SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels would impart some incredible advice to him about hosting a show. After waiting a long time, Michaels finally coughed it up: "Always leave a 20 percent tip in restaurants. Otherwise, your name will wind up in the New York Post." O'Brien paused, then reflected: "In fact, I'm leaving one tonight."
Fans of the late lamented mystery serial The Edge of Night, this little item is for you. Ann Flood, who played heroine Nancy Karr, is alive and well and living in New York. I ran into her at the above dinner last night and learned that she's married to a media mogul, has 10 grandchildren, and has never been happier. She played fictional town lawyer Mike Karr's wife from 1962 to 1984, but really, she is still a beauty, with flawless skin and a terrific smile. Nice to know that someone from Edge — which was famous for its grisly murder stories — got a happy ending.