This week, thousands of Michael Jackson’s fans from around the world, descended on the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, for the MJ Diamond Celebration, on what would have been the King of Pop’s 60th birthday; and after a fantastic performance of Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil, everyone went out to DAYLIGHT Beach Club. There, Sony and the Estate of Michael Jackson threw one heckuva shindig, highlighted by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation’s presentation – by Quinn Tivey (Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson, and co-Trustee of the Elizabeth Taylor Trust) and Evan Ross (son of Diana Ross) – of the Elizabeth Taylor Legacy Award to Michael Jackson (posthumously) vis-à-vis his children, Prince Jackson and Paris Jackson; followed by a live DJ-set by Mark Ronson, and a late-night performance by Usher.
Since you can read all about the scheduled goings-on, elsewhere;* I’m gonna talk about some of the hilarity I encountered in the VIP Section, that evening. It all began when, upon being directed to the VIP Entrance, I thought I’d spotted Angela Bassett coming-in, behind our group; but it was hard to tell, due to the blinding barrage of flash-bulbs. A few minutes later – having been led to the VIP, and shown to one of the ETAF’s cabanas – I had a drink and waited for my eyes to regain focus; during which, I looked up and saw the woman I’d seen earlier, being escorted to a cabana adjacent to ours, with another fabulously attired woman, followed closely by two young men.
My eyes ‘working’ once again (insomuch as they ever have), I did a double- and then a triple-take; because Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do With It, the American Horror Story anthology, Black Panther, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout; not to mention FOX’s 9-1-1) and her friend – which, upon closer inspection I realized to be the marvelous Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets & Lies, Without a Trace, Blindspot, and this fall’s Homecoming on Amazon PRIME) – were accompanied by two young men of a decidedly twink-y persuasion,** who looked like they’d decided to pop by, on their way home from a beach party on Nantucket (or perhaps, Martha’s Vineyard - but you get the idea).
Upon having tried to process this (and having failed), I turned to my partners-in-crime for the evening – Heather Acheson (Global Ambassador, ONE DROP; Ambassador, Ritz-Carlton; Personal Attaché to HH Prince Albert II of Monaco), Sally Dewhurst (Cirque du Soleil), and recent Vegas-transplant, Rob Koplin (who is patience personified, and an all-around great sport) – and said “Hey y’all! I’m pretty sure that’s Angela Bassett and Marianne Jean-Baptiste; but (and please, correct me if I’m wrong) aren’t the two guys they’re with dressed more for a clam-bake, than an event with a red carpet?
Then, just as everyone concurred, a P.A. came to bring Ms. Bassett et al., to the stage; and they were gone, just like that.
So, I let that stew in my mind, until Heather waved over Alain Baume (President, Vicini aka Giuseppe Zanotti, USA), and I began to chat with Baume, whom I’d interviewed with Zanotti, in 2004, for the opening of the first Giuseppe Zanotti boutique in Las Vegas (at the Forum Shops at Caesars). I recollected how, during the interview, Zanotti had been the very embodiment of charm, until I’d asked whether he’d ever design some shoes for men. Well, you’d have thought I’d peed in his Wheaties, because the smile vanished, his nose turned-up as though he were smelling a foul odor, and (with an air of derision and disdain) he said something along the lines of “No! Not for me, men’s shoes. Men’s feet are so ugly and big. Zanotti will never make shoes for men!”
Baume laughed heartily, and held-up four fingers. “Yes! I remember! That is so funny, because Men’s is now 40% of our business! You must tell Giuseppe!” So, I did; to much the same response. Later in the evening, while posing together for a photograph, the designer told me that I’d been years ahead of the men’s-shoe game; to which I replied that it wasn’t due to any great foresight on my part, so much as a purely selfish desire to have nice shoes.
Fast-forward maybe forty-five minutes or so, and after the presentations; the pair of award-winning actresses returned – followed by their young friends.
Well, I couldn’t take it, any longer. I just had to know what the story was. So, I went over to where they were seated, and as Bassett was in the midst of conversing, introduced myself to Jean-Baptiste. “Excuse me. You’re Marianne Jean-Baptiste, right?” She replied in the affirmative, and asked my name. “Oh. I’m Michael. It’s lovely to meet you – and I’ve been a fan, ever since Secrets & Lies – but I’ve got to tell you, I observed you and Ms. Bassett (two of the most talented, gifted, and glamorous people working in Hollywood, today) enter the party, accompanied by two cute young men, roughly half my age, who (if you’ll excuse my saying so) were dressed not so much for the red carpet, as for a barbeque.”
Jean-Baptiste began chuckling; but I wasn’t done. “It’s not that I care about the whys and wherefores – after twenty-some years in Las Vegas, rest assured, very little phases me, anymore – but I have to tell you that I’m flummoxed by what has to be one of the most incongruous pairings I’ve ever seen; and have not been curious, all night!”
Well, she laughed, and then told me a story about how one of the men (they’re a couple) works at the new Waldorf-Astoria Las Vegas (though, from what I gathered, the ladies weren’t staying there) and had offered to escort them to the party (or something like that – it was pretty loud). Then, after letting this sink-in for a moment, leaned-in and joked (with that delicious British accent of hers), “I probably should’ve said they’re our boyfriends, huh?”
And you’d think that would’ve been that; but she went on to tell me that before that evening, she really hadn’t been aware of the incredible work done around the world, by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation; and how, as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in the early 2000s, her husband saw first-hand the result of the AIDS pandemic. Well, adoring the ETAF as I do, this rolled right into a back-and-forth about how this generation, without the benefit of sex education***, has seen a sharp uptake in HIV/AIDS cases; not to mention all of the STIs that are on the rise, as a result of people using PrEP, and erroneously thinking they’re ‘covered’ with regards to bacterial infections like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, and Syphilis. And, as conversations about sex tend to do, ours segued into one about the Vatican; and how the current smear-campaign against Pope Francis II is political retribution from haters who do not agree with the messages of acceptance and kindness he’s preached. Needless to say, both Jean-Baptiste and I are very #TeamPope.
After about twenty minutes, Bassett turned around and introduced herself. I did the same, adding an enthusiastic “Wakanda Forever!” that caused her to fell-out, laughing. I asked her when 9-1-1 was coming back (“September 23rd, Baby…”) and at Jean-Baptiste’s urging, retold my story, (that, once again, was received with mirthful grace; or perhaps graceful mirth).
It was a marvelous night; celebrating one of the greatest entertainers of all-time, while bringing awareness to an incredible organization that strives to make our world a better place.
MJ Diamond Celebration
Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation
Click HERE for info
Get into it!
[Editor’s Notes: *Click HERE to read Melinda Sheckells’ comprehensive coverage of the MJ Diamond Celebration, for Billboard. // **In Never Enough, his 2007 book about the murders of brothers Rob and Andrew Kissell, author Joe McGinniss defines ‘twink’ as “a gay slang term used to denote an attractive, boyish-looking gay man between the ages of 18 and 22; a slender ectomorph with little or no body hair; often blond, and often but not necessarily Caucasian.” // ***Besides being bombarded with messages about safe-sex (wrapped in more than a bit of fear), between the fifth and eighth grades, I learned how to put condoms on bananas, cucumbers, and in one case, a flashlight.]