Her voice had never been heard by the public before, somehow shielded from the searing spotlight that turned her father into the biggest pop star on the globe.
But when 11-year-old Paris Michael Katherine Jackson finally spoke to the world, she brought a simple message about Michael Jackson that cut through all the controversy, gossip and recriminations that had threatened to overshadow the memorial service Tuesday in Los Angeles for the King of Pop.
"Ever since I was born … Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," Paris Jackson said, sobs catching in the back of her throat after a star-studded, two-hour-plus tribute at the Staples Center. She was flanked by her aunts and uncles.
"And I just want to say I love him so much."
Forget the sniping about who was or wasn't there. Forget the speculation about who will get his millions, what his drug habits were and why some mourners seemed so eager to find a piece of his spotlight after his death. Paris reminded us that, at the heart of all this bombast, was a father leaving three children far too soon.
Sharing the moment, 12-year-old Michael Joseph Jr., known as Prince Michael, and 7-year-old Prince Michael II, known as Blanket.
Like he did so often when he was alive, Michael Jackson took center stage in one final showbiz extravaganza that was ultimately so moving and momentous you had to give it up, one last time.
Along with Paris' tender tribute, here's a list of the other moments that made Tuesday's memorial a singular, fitting recognition:
• Jackson's backing singers leading the final song, a soaring version of We Are the World. Nice that, in an event featuring so many boldfaced names, a few unknown talents could shine so brightly.
• Brooke Shields reminding the audience that it is possible to grow up as a child star and become a reasonably well-adjusted person. Her speech, constantly on the edge of tears, seemed more heartfelt than any but Paris' words, as she recalled her teen friendship with Jackson and her first reaction to his trademark sequined mitten: "What's up with the glove?"
• Al Sharpton delivering a sermon filled with enough thunder and righteousness to remind us all there's a "reverend" in front of his name for a reason. His best line, to Jackson's kids — "Ain't nothing strange about your daddy; what he had to deal with was strange" — was true and not in the same moment.
• Britain's Got Talent star Shaheen Jafargholi may have been a little pitchy, but the 12-year-old earned major props for tackling Who's Lovin' You in front of Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie.
• Magic Johnson marveling that a star as big as Jackson ordered in Kentucky Fried Chicken when the two hung out at his home.
• A very pregnant Jennifer Hudson, rebounding from the tragedy of seeing her mother, brother and nephew killed just months ago, anchoring a soaring, churchified version of Will You Be There.
• Motown Records owner Berry Gordy topping an emotional speech by calling Jackson "the greatest entertainer that ever lived." Almost made you forget he nearly turned down the Jackson 5 when they auditioned for his label.
• Jermaine Jackson, once the family's second-biggest star, struggling to get through a version of Charlie Chaplin's song Smile, his voice challenged by grief and the Staples Center's cavernous acoustics.
• Smokey Robinson laughing as he recalled how a 10-year-old Jackson sang a version of Who's Lovin' You so well, Robinson had to remind some fans he sang — and wrote it — first.
• Mariah Carey picking I'll Be There as the memorial's opening song and being smart enough to bring backing singer Trey Lorenz onstage, even as grief or lack of practice brought her usually soaring vocals to earth a bit.
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or [email protected] See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.