Allan 'Big Al' Scanlan and Brian Friedman remember Michael Jackson: Honored guests at MJ tribute
September 29, 11:36 PM Pop Media Examiner Katrina-Kasey Wheeler
The Michael Jackson tribute portrait was created and organized by Jerry Biederman and David Ilan the artist who has embarked upon a phenomenal homage to Michael Jackson in the form of a portrait. The King of Pop is arguably the greatest entertainer the world has ever known. David Ilan uses a technique called pointillism. Each dot in the portrait represents an actual fan who has signed up to be a part of the tribute (read the interview with David Ilan here). OnFriday August 29th, 2009, the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Michael Jackson tribute portrait took place in Hollywood,California. Many people who knew Michael Jackson personally were honored guests at the event including: Azia Pryor (a close friend of Jackson’s with former boyfriend Chris Tucker), Don Wilson (director and producer of the “Man in the Mirror” video), Allan ‘Big Al’ Scanlan(operated Neverland Ranch amusement park), and Brian Friedman (choreographer/dancer). The first dot drawn was for the King of Pop, and the next three were for his three children: Prince Michael, Paris Michael Katherine, and Prince Michael II (Blanket). All honored guests in attendance were also drawn a dot in the portrait.
The Michael Jackson tribute portrait website has become the new mecca for Michael Jackson fans. It has very much become an online community for fans to communicate with eachother and share the latest news regarding Michael Jackson. The site has a chat room feature, and can now be followed on Twitter. There are currently 16,000 active users on the site, but hundred of thousands of people had originally signed up and voted in order to get the portrait started.
Nearly 20,000 fans from more than 165 countries have come to the site to get their dots in Michael's portrait since we launched on August 28 (the day before Michael's birthday). Following Michael's death, the tribute website had more than 250,000 fans send e-mails to David Ilan voting for him to do this portrait of Michael.
Allan “Big Al” Scanlan operated the amusement park at Neverland Ranch for over 15 years. Brian Friedman is one of the best known choreographers in the music business. Friedman has choreographed music videos and performances such as Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and “Slave 4 U,” “My Love is Like Whoa” by Mya, and “The One” by Prince. If you watched this year’s MTV video music awards – you will have seen him performing with Janet Jackson during the opening tribute to Michael Jackson. Allan “Big Al” Scanlan and Brian Friedman – two of the honored guests who knew Michael Jackson took time to discuss their thoughts on the portrait tribute as well as the life and passing of the extraordinary King of Pop.
Katrina-Kasey Wheeler: What was it like to work for Michael Jackson?
Allan “Big Al” Scanlan: When I am old and gray (not too long from now) I will look back on my time at Neverland and my experiences with Mr. Jackson as some of the fondest and most cherished memories of my life.
KW: Mr. Jackson always exuded such a beautiful spirit when he performed, and was interviewed, what was it like to be around his energy? What was Mr. Jackson like as a friend?
AS: For the first part of that question ... as for spirit and energy in person ... it was one hundred times more powerful than you can imagine. For the second part ... I always tried to be realistic and remind myself that I was the employee and he was the employer. That was hard at times because he treated me better than many friends treat each other. He was always very polite, respectful, honest and compassionate. If you find a friend that is like that 100% of the times...do not lose that friend.
KW: What was it like to run Neverland amusement park for 15 years?
AS: I was hired to run and maintain the Amusement Park which consisted of the rides, trains the arcade and water fort. Prior to working at Neverland, my work had me traveling all over the world. Thanks to that travel and some of my clients, I developed knowledge of high level hospitality. Applying that knowledge of hospitality at Neverland, I ended up wearing many hats as they say. It was a very rewarding and humbling time for me. The impact that a day at Neverland had on the inner city children and the children who were dealing with life threatening illness was beyond belief. To represent Mr. Jackson and to help make his dream come true for those children, to be part of that magical day and the memory those children will hang on to ... was a blessing.
KW: For those who never had the opportunity to visit Neverland and know Mr. Jackson personally, what was it like? It seems like it was a very magical place. Can you describe it for the fans who will be reading this article?
AS: I am sorry to say that even with all the pictures and movies of the ranch you find on the internet, there is no way a person can describe what a day at Neverland is like. It is something that has to be experienced.
KW: Do you have any experience(s)/stories that you can share with the fans who will read this article - in regard to what Michael Jackson was like to work with/for, and what he was like as a person? AS: This answer will be a lot like the last one ... very hard to describe what it is like to work for Mr. Jackson ... I never really thought of it as work. When I was 6 years old, my dad told me he loved his job. He then looked at me with a very sincere look and a tone of extreme importance in his voice as he said "There are very few people in the world that love their job. If you find a job you love, you will be a very lucky person". I loved my job at Neverland. My job was to entertain the biggest entertainer the world will ever know". How many people can say that? Michael Jackson the person: caring, compassionate, genuine, practical joker, and an incredible, loving father.
KW: Where were you when you found out that Michael Jackson had passed away?
AS: Have you heard of 'The Middle of Nowhere'? I was on a huge farm (Agape Farm) about 15 miles from Shirleysburg Pennsylvania at the Creation Festival. I do the Two-Way radio communications for the festival producers. I describe this festival as like Woodstock only for Christian music. Several of the staff knew I had worked for Mr. Jackson and came to my production trailer shortly after the news hit the air. I was very lucky to have some very caring people around to comfort me.
KW: What do you think of the Michael Jackson tribute portrait that is being drawn by artist David Ilan? AS: I actually had never seen or heard of that kind of art ... I was amazed at how a piece of art like that progresses and how much patience it must take. I think it is a great tribute. I forwarded the information to everyone on my contact list and got a great response.
KW: May I ask if you have a specific message that you are attaching to your dot in the portrait? AS: Michael, I love you and I miss you.
KW: In your opinion, would you like to see Neverland Ranch become a place for fans to visit in the future to honor Mr. Jackson? AS: Absolutely! I know there has been talk both good and bad about that possibility. There have been reports of Mr. Jackson saying he hated Neverland and would never live there again. Given the acts of the DA, the Sheriff and 'that family', I do not doubt those reports. I believe eventually Mr. Jackson would have re-opened Neverland. Why do I believe that you ask (?). During my 15 years at Neverland, sitting at a picnic table under a huge oak tree, I had several long conversations with Mr. Jackson about Neverland. Looking into his eyes and hearing his voice, there is no doubt that the charity work done at Neverland was one of the most important things in his life. In time, I believe the importance of those magical days for those sick kids and inner city kids would have found its way back into Michael’s heart. The letters from doctors and nurses from children's hospital and the letters from parents who hang on to the memory of their child and that trip to Neverland, make it very clear how important Mr. Jackson’s charity work thru Neverland was. I became very good friends with a kid with Cystic Fibrosis (number 1 genetic killer of children). Jeff visited Neverland once with Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and twice as my guest during the annual employee family day. One day after taking it (Neverland) all in ... he looked at me and said "I don't know if I like Michael Jackson the entertainer (Jeff was a Lollapalooza kind of kid) but I am sure I like Michael Jackson the person". Jeff truly understood Michael and the importance of Neverland ... and as I write this and hang on to those happy memories of Jeff at Neverland, I understand the importance of Neverland. If Neverland were brought back to its 'Hay Day' condition and opened to the public part of the time to support itself and part of the time for invitation only charity events ... it would be a win - win situation.
KW: Is there anything else that you would like to add? AS: I hope the investigation into Mr. Jackson’s death and all that follows gets over with fast. I want the media to get their fill and move on to someone or something else. I want Mr. Jackson’s children to be spared the media circus. Every time I see a photo of the kids I get emotional. They are amazing and wonderful children and have suffered a great loss and are experiencing a pain that no child should go thru. I include them in my Prayers every day.
One more thing ... to all the fans ... please pass on to the next generation, the greatness of Michael, both as an entertainer and as a kind, compassionate person who truly wanted to Heal The World.
Katrina-Kasey Wheeler: First and foremost, what was it like to work with Michael Jackson?
Brian Friedman: It was and will always be one of the best experiences in my life. He was so kind and the first time I worked with him I was 14 years old. I was still a star struck child and he put that at ease. I remember him putting his arm around my shoulder after the performance and pointing out into the crowd and saying wow, why are they all screaming for me. The way he said it was so innocent and I saw past the fame and he was human.
KW: So many people who worked with Michael Jackson have commented on the energy that he exuded. What was it like?
BF: Michael was a kind soul. The energy that he put out was genuine and I believe he treated people the way he wanted to be treated. You couldn’t help but feel the joy.
KW: What was it like to work with Michael Jackson?
BF: When we were working on MTV VMAs 2001 when he danced for N’Sync I stood in for him at the final dress rehearsal. I was standing behind a screen that revealed him and there were many artists and performers in the audience hoping to get a glimpse of him and see him dance. At that time it was rumored that he was performing. When I was standing behind the screen they saw a silhouette and introduced him. The crowd went crazy and for a split second I was able to experience what it felt like to be him before going on stage. It was incredible. As I was revealed the audience quieted down and I was brought back to reality! LOL it was still an amazing experience.
KW: How did you find out about the passing of Michael Jackson?
BF: I was in my bathroom getting ready to go to a final rehearsal for a show that I was directing that was that evening. I thought it was a misunderstanding. Farrah Fawcett had passed away earlier and I thought someone had mixed up the information. I refused to believe it till I found out from a reliable source. I immediately called a family friend and they confirmed that he was at the hospital and they were trying to revive him. It was shortly after when I was driving to work that I got the call that he had passed away. It was shock and disbelief that I felt the most. I never thought this would happen to Michael.
KW: I watched your performance with Janet Jackson at the MTV VMAs. What was it like to be on stage paying homage to a man that has left such an indelible mark on countless dancers and fans worldwide?
BF: It was an honor to dance for Michael’s memory. I knew how much it meant to his family, friends and fans. Everyone needed to find a way to say goodbye and being a part of their goodbye was extremely humbling. Janet is one of the kindest souls and it was beautiful to share that moment with her. The stage was full of the best dancers and choreographers in the entertainment industry and we all owe so much to Michael. He inspired us in ways unimaginable. We all miss him so much.
KW: Many fans around the world remain devastated by the unexpected loss of such a brilliant musician - but more importantly such a caring humanitarian. What advice do you have for the fans in regard to keeping Mr. Jackson's legacy alive?
BF: Do what Michael did... Give and create with no boundaries. I believe that what can be learned most from him is that anyone can achieve anything they dream of no matter how big or small. Living the way he did is keeping his legacy alive. His music will live forever.
KW: What are your thoughts on the Michael Jackson tribute portrait?
BF: I think the portrait is an amazing way to pay tribute to Michael. It gives the world the opportunity to be a part of something that will be cherished in his name.
To be a part of the Michael Jackson Tribute portrait sign up at:MichaelJacksonTributePortrait.com.
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