TV URBAN LEGEND: Michael Jackson didn’t actually do any singing in his guest appearance on The Simpsons.
Guest-starring on The Simpsons has become almost a rite of passage for celebrities (a while back, we featured a TV legend about Justin Timberlake’s ill-fated first appearance as a guest voice on the long-running animated series). However, in the early days, producers allowed their guest stars to use pseudonyms; the first to do so, Dustin Hoffman was credited as “Sam Atic” (get it?) in Season 2’s “Lisa’s Substitute.”
In the Season 3 premiere, “Stark Raving Dad,” Michael Jackson appeared as “John Jay Smith,” playing Leon Kompowsky, whom Homer Simpson meets after being accidentally committed to an asylum. In the episode, Kompowsky, who believes himself to be Michael Jackson, sings the hit songs “Billie Jean” and “Ben,” as well as an original, “Happy Birthday, Lisa,” as a birthday present from Bart Simpson to his sister. However, while Jackson did appear on the episode, did he actually not sing on it? Find out!
It’s interesting seeing how “Stark Raving Dad” came about: Jackson apparently was a fan of the show and contacted Matt Groening about making an appearance. Jackson was particularly a fan of Bart, and he wanted to write a song for the character. So Jackson actually co-wrote the hit “Do the Bartman,” although because he was under contract to another music company he couldn’t legally take credit (his co-writer Bryan Loren was solely credited). While “Do the Bartman” was never released as a single in the United States, it was distributed in other countries and did, indeed, become a No. 1 hit in the United Kingdom, Australia and Norway, among other markets.
When he was given the original script for the episode, Jackson had a few suggested changes, including that his character would write a song with Bart (it ended up being “Happy Birthday, Lisa”). In addition, Jackson insisted that before he commit to the episode, the show had to do a read-through of the script with him (the cast and crew traveled to his manager’s office to do so). Jackson finally agreed, but under two conditions: one normal and one more than a little odd. First, he would only do so under the aforementioned John Jay Smith pseudonym. Again, as the show had done it recently with Hoffman, it wasn’t a big deal. Second, however, Jackson would only perform the speaking parts; an impersonator would handle the singing. He wanted to trick his brothers into thinking it was him singing on the show.
The producers agreed, although as it turned out, they were so annoyed by having to evade questions about whether it was actually Jackson doing the voice they made a rule that, from that point on, all guest voices on The Simpsons would have to be willing to be credited under their actual name.
Just to add extra confusion to the situation, when it came time to record the episode, while the impersonator, Kipp Lennon, performed the songs in the episodes, Jackson decided to also record the songs, just for fun. As a result, there has always been some murkiness, even among Simpsons staffers, as to whether any of Jackson’s performances were used on the final show. The Simpsons music editor Chris Ledesma, however, has confirmed that it was only Lennon’s performances used on the actual show.
So the legend is …
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