Joseph Bell wanted to bring Michael Jackson back.
About 10 years ago the singer wrote a comeback song for the King of Pop, hoping he would record it and include it on his next album. But June 25, 2009, dashed any chances of that happening, as the superstar performer died at the age of 50.
Jackson never recorded “I’m Back,” but Bell continues to bring him back every time he portrays Jackson in the tribute show “Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Band,” coming to the Santander Performing Arts Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s an honor, it’s a privilege, it feels really right for me,” Bell said. “I’m not trying to be him, I’m just myself. It’s just a great job placement.”
The Atlanta resident is one of two Jackson impersonators in Who’s Bad. The other, Taalib York, was the original Michael when the group formed in 2004. When York briefly left, Bell was asked to audition.
“I thought it was a great idea because so many people compared me to Michael already just being as I already am, you know?” said Bell, 49. “I kept getting people picking me to be their Michael. Disney World, they just hired me to sing, but I was their token Michael Jackson.
“Anyway, I ended up auditioning for the band, and the first song I sang with them was ‘Rock With You.’ And they were surprised to hear the voice. Because most tribute artists don’t sing as well, you see?”
After Jackson’s death, as demand for “Who’s Bad” soared, York came back into the fold. The reunion allows each Jackson to stay fresh. Each can perform the entire show, and in smaller venues only one does, but at bigger shows they switch throughout the performance. Bell said he’s fairly certain the Reading performance will feature both Michaels.
A backing band, including a horn section, and a stable of dancers round out the group.
Joe Giordano Jr., booking and marketing manager for SMG, which manages the Santander Arena and Performing Arts Center, was excited to book the act.
“We were really proud when the show confirmed because we knew the show does very well in our market, and because it is easily the best Michael Jackson tribute out right now,” Giordano said.
As the frontman of a tribute act lauded for its authenticity, you might assume Bell saw the real thing in concert at least once. If you assumed that, you’re a vegetable.
“You know what, man? Never saw Michael live,” Bell said. “And I wanted to meet him so bad.”
Bell and the band boned up by watching Michael’s tours online. To master Jackson’s seminal dance moves, Bell worked with multiple choreographers: Travis Payne, who appeared in Jackson’s “This Is It” concert-rehearsal film, and Frank Gatson, who works with Beyonce and danced in the “Smooth Criminal” video.
Those attending “Who’s Bad” should expect to hear most of Jackson’s biggest hits – Bell said there are so many they couldn’t perform all of them in one night – with a few surprises thrown in.
Does he have a favorite song to perform?
“There’s too many, man, that’s not even a fair question,” he said.
Then, after some thought: “Actually, I love ‘Earth Song’ and ‘Man in the Mirror.’ I also love his new ‘Love Never Felt So Good.’ ”
Jackson’s death put the focus back on the music, where it hadn’t been for the last 15 years of his life. No longer was he tabloid fodder, he was simply the late writer/performer of a monumental body of work.
And while his life may be over, his soul (and his funk and rock) remain quite alive. Rarely does a week go by without at least one of his albums selling enough copies to place in the Billboard 200 chart. This week he has two: “The Essential Michael Jackson” at No. 95 and “Bad” at No. 152.
“There’s some type of magic, I don’t know what it is, but Michael attracts generations of people,” Bell said. “No matter where we go around the world, his music is like a universal language that somehow the generations just catch on to. I don’t know of another artist that has attracted as many younger fans as Michael Jackson continues to attract, even after being gone.
“He’s like a musical prophet and a superhero combined. I just think he’s a phenomenon, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like that again.”
Sources: OnTap – By Jon Fasnacht | All Things Michael