John Norris Remembers His Day At Neverland With Michael Jackson

Back in 1993, MTV hosted a contest called My Weekend at Michael's Neverland Valley Contest. As a part of the contest, MTV News' John Norris was sent out to Neverland to cover the revealing of the grand-prize winner. Here is his account of what it was like on the grounds of Neverland and working with Michael Jackson.

"MTV had a contest where they asked fans to submit completed videos for the song 'Who Is It.' I don't remember whether MTV put the fan-made video into rotation — I have a feeling they didn't. The three finalists got to come spend a weekend at Neverland, and Michael would pick the winner there. At the tail end of that weekend, we came in. I was VJing at the time, so I was there more as a VJ, but we also had a news crew and a promo crew. The deal was that Michael was going to join me and the three finalists on the grounds of Neverland to reveal his choice for the winner. We were there to shoot several segments, first with the finalists and then with Michael.

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"Neverland is huge. It's a ways to get to — you have to go up this long winding road through the mountains. It's probably a 15-minute drive up from the main road. And there's no mistaking when you get there, because there's a beautiful ornate gate. We didn't even see the entire spread, but passing through I saw a fort with a bunch of tree houses — you really get the sense you're entering the grounds of an amusement park. The house is an old Tudor style house with some guest houses, where the finalists stayed over. So they set us up on the perimeter of Michael's amusement park. There are probably half a dozen rides. There was one of those big spider-looking things, there was a huge slide and definitely a Ferris wheel. When you're on the grounds of Neverland, you really get the feeling that he thought of himself as a child. I mean, the damn place is called Neverland.

"So anyway, we got set up and did a few segments with the finalists and we were waiting for Michael. Finally he shows up, and he arrives on a little train that ran around the edge of Neverland. And he shows up with a couple of little kids. And I'm talking little — they could not have been older than 6 or 7. A boy and girl, and I don't remember if he introduced them or not.

"Bob Jones was our point person, and he was Michael's longtime publicist. Bob came over to me beforehand and said, 'You know, John, you know the agreement is that Michael is going to reveal the winner, but you're not going to talk to him.' I knew I wasn't going to be doing a sit-down interview, but I was like, 'What do you mean I'm not supposed to talk to him?' And he said, 'You can talk to him before we start shooting, but once we're rolling, just don't ask him any questions.' I said OK, but I said to myself that it was not right.

"Before we started shooting, Michael walked up and was really friendly and we started chatting. He asked if I had seen the zoo and I said I hadn't, but I'd love to see it. But the people in charge of us being there told us we had to stay in the one area where we were shooting. We didn't go in the house or anything. He said that he knew me from MTV and told me he enjoyed watching me. I was only a few years into being a regular on-air person, so the fact that he would even know who I was seemed crazy to me. I was amazed that he watched television or did anything that would fall into the scope of normal behavior. Then he started talking about Janet's record, which was about to come out and I hadn't heard yet. He heard it and said it was great.

"When we shot our first segment, I really grew a pair at that point, so I said, 'Michael, thanks for having us here this weekend. I know it's meant a lot to these guys. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FINALISTS?' A real probing question, isn't it? So he mustered 'I liked them all.' And I said, 'I know you have to choose a favorite later on, but was there one that really jumped out at you right away?' And he said, 'No, you know, they were all great.' I knew I wasn't going to be getting much more than that, so I wrapped up the segment.

As soon as we shot it, Jones runs over to me and says 'What did I tell you?' And I was like, 'That's out of line? Are you serious?' I think he wanted me to talk about Michael with him standing right there. 'Look, here's Michael Jackson! He's standing right here! Look at him!' But Michael sees what's going on and says, 'It's fine, it's fine.' I feel like in that moment I realized that Michael was way more cool with actual human interaction than his handlers think he is.

"And that was it. He picked a winner, we ate lunch and we left."

Don't miss "A Celebration of Michael Jackson on MTV," airing at 6 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.

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