Michael Jackson’s Family Upset With James Durbin Over ‘American Idol’ Pepsi Quip

'We were shocked to see this,' read the Jacksons' message; Durbin tweeted an apology on Thursday.

Some people might argue that it’s patently unfair to take rank amateurs, put them on the biggest show on TV and then expose them to potential worldwide ridicule every week. Because it’s one thing to tune in to “American Idol” from your living room or play shows at the local wings joint, it’s another thing entirely when you get up on that stage and open your mouth with tens of millions watching and listening.

James Durbin learned this lesson the hard way this week when he made what he thought was an innocent crack about not setting himself on fire during his pyro-tastic cover of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” on Wednesday night.

Asked by host Ryan Seacrest if he was worried about dancing around among the flames shooting up from the piano onstage, Durbin joked, “I have a lot of hairspray in my hair to keep it from jumping around — so much so, the one thing I was worried about was having a ‘Pepsi moment.’ ”

The seemingly innocent crack was a reference to the 1984 on-set accident in which late pop icon Michael Jackson was badly burned during the shooting of a Pepsi commercial by some wayward pyro effects. The serious burns he suffered in the incident allegedly led to his longtime addiction to pain medication and prescription drugs.

The Jackson family was not amused by the quip and sent a statement to TMZ on Thursday.

“We were shocked to see this. It’s nothing to make light of and everybody should be focusing on who was responsible for Michael’s death,” read the statement. Family patriarch Joseph Jackson also was reportedly miffed that “Idol” producers did not cut the comment from the West Coast feed of the show.

Durbin defended his slip-up in a tweet, which has since been scrubbed from the singer’s official “Idol” Twitter feed, that explained, “For anyone talkin … I said pepsi NOT MJ! I have no disrespect for Michael. I grew up singing his art. I guess youll take it how you want it.” He later added, “Talkin about MJs passing is too soon. Making a reference to an incident 25 years ago..not too soon. The stab was at pepsi people.”

It’s worth noting that Pepsi’s bitter rival, Coca-Cola, is the main “Idol” sponsor, a fact that Seacrest reminded Durbin of in an awkward moment after the comment on the show.

What did you think of James Durbin’s “Pepsi” quip? Tell us in the comments.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.