New Jacko emerges to face the music on TV

DAVID USBORNE

New York

Like it or not, Michael Jackson is about to come back into your life. Intent on overcoming the child-sex controversy that engulfed him last year, the pop star is bursting forth with a new album. So extravagant will be the promotional campaign, to avoid it you will probably need to leave Earth.

It will reach a high pitch in the US this evening, when the King of Pop is granting the nation a rare audience, by way of a live television interview on the ABC network. It is expected that half the nation will tune in.

The hype even just for the interview has been something to behold. This is the first appearance by Jackson since a face-to-face with Oprah Winfrey two years ago. It is also the first time fans will hear him speak on the furore of last year and, more happily, of his marriage to the daughter of the real King, Lisa Marie Presley.

Apparently still not disposed to humility, Jackson originally requested that the interview be broadcast from the Egyptian Temple of Dendur in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. That plan had to be scrapped when the venerable museum feared it would be taken by storm by the pop star's fans. Instead, it will be held on a security-fenced sound set in Los Angeles.

Diane Sawyer, the ABC anchorwoman, says she will not to be shy about her questions. "There are no ground rules", she said. "I'll ask about everything: the child-molestation allegations, his marriage, his creative process." Agents have dismissed reports from Britain that the couple will announce they are expecting a baby.

When they first surfaced, the charges that Jackson had molested a 13- year-old boy seemed to have doomed his career. But they later evaporated, after a reported out-of-court settlement worth $15m (pounds 9.6m) The news last autumn that Jackson had secretly wed Ms Presley was a first sign of his intent to resuscitate himself and his celebrity value.

The album - and the promotional blitz around it - is a monument to the artist.Called History: Past, Present and Future ... Book 1, it contains 30 tracks, half new songs, half old hits. Its main selling motif - already on billboards around New York - is a towering stone figure of Jackson in the style of the Statue of Liberty.

The omens for the record - his first since the release of Thriller in 1991 - seem good, meanwhile. A single from it called Scream - in which Jackson rails against the media and all the alleged injustices it has visited upon him - has been released and has broken all records by soaring instantly to No 5 in the US charts.

It beat the previous record set by the Beatles single, Let It Be, which jumped to No 6 when released in 1970.

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