Michael Jackson's accusers have spoken. The critics have waded in with their opinions. Now it's the kids' turn to speak out.
And their opinion is worth hearing because kids will help determine whether Mr. Jackson, who on tonight's "The Jackson Family Honors" on NBC performs for the first time since being accused of molesting a child, will be yesterday's news or keep his superstar status.
If the 30 or so fifth-graders in Renee Johnson's class at Baltimore County's Deer Park Elementary School are any measure, The Gloved One won't have much trouble getting on with his musical career.
"There is nothing wrong with his career," Wayne Lee, 11, says emphatically.
But when Mr. Jackson settled the child molestation civil suit without admitting guilt but paying an unspecified amount (rumored to be between $10 million and $24 million) to his 14-year-old accuser and the boy's family, he did lose a valuable ++ endorsement.
Pepsi ended a 10-year relationship with Michael Jackson that reportedly paid him $20 million in endorsement fees during that period.
Mr. Jackson, however, is still a rich man. Forbes magazine has estimated his worth as $150 million.
But the charges and the settlement have not dimmed Wayne's or other children's enthusiasm for Mr. Jackson's music.
"The people that accused him are just out for money," says Wayne, who is into Michael Jackson music "big time."
Some of the children's comments revealed their own gentle innocence and belief that this world is an uncomplicated place.
"He gave all of that money to children and sick children," says 10-year-old Cortney Williams. "He couldn't have given all of that money away and then done that. Michael Jackson is innocent,"
"I think he's innocent," agrees Breyann Corbin, 10. "Michael Jackson can have anybody he wants. He wouldn't have to sneak around."
"I know he is innocent," says Torrey Lewis, 10.
"I'm not reallly a fan of his, but it's just not like him. From everything I have heard, he could not have done it," says 10-year-old Sean Quinn.
"That boy is lying," Tiffany Wilson, 11, says of the child accuser, adding that Mr. Jackson "paid the money to him so he can get on with his life."
The Jackson who received the most scorn was LaToya, the sole family member who said her brother was guilty. "That LaToya, she just wants to be the famous one," Wayne says.
"She's jealous of her brother," Tiffany adds.
Of course, a few of the 10- and 11-year-olds were left wondering about Mr. Jackson's guilt or innocence after he paid the settlement. "At first, I thought he was innocent. But when he went and paid all of that money, it made him look guilty," says Justin Mills, 10.
And like many adults, some children don't know what to make of the accusations and the payoff. "I'm kind of stuck in the middle," says 10-year-old Jennifer Ball, who leans slightly more toward thinking he's innocent.
The children's parents have talked about the case with their curi
ous children. "We've discussed whether or not he could be guilty or whether he was a victim of circumstance," says Roslyn Corbin, Breyann's mother.
Breyann enjoys Michael Jackson's music, which is fine with Mrs. Corbin. "I support her decision," the mother says of her daughter's desire to still listen to and buy Michael Jackson music. "Yes, I would buy his music."
One parent was surprised that her child's interpretation of what happened to Michael Jackson was different from hers. "Sean believes that he could not have possibly done it," Robin Quinn says. "But it sounds suspicious to me."