By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY
AP Music Writer
NEW YORK — Last year, as the Grammys were approaching, the show’s executive producer was in frequent talks with Michael Jackson to appear on the telecast to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Thriller.”
Ken Ehrlich, the Grammy telecast’s co-executive producer, had presented several ideas for performers, including Justin Timberlake and Usher, all of which excited Jackson. But in the end, he declined the show’s invitation.
“He just wasn’t ready for it,” Ehrlich said.
This year, Jackson will be a focal point of the show, with an unprecedented posthumous tribute. The Grammys will broadcast a 3-D clip the singer made for his hit “Earth Song,” a video that was to be integral to his comeback concerts in London in July 2009 – shows that never happened because of his June 25 death in Los Angeles.
Usher, Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Smokey Robinson will perform alongside the clip, which Ehrlich says will be the first time an awards show will feature 3-D.
“Whenever we would do a show with (Jackson), the first thing he would say to me was, `How can we do something that we (have) never done before?’ And now we’re doing something that hasn’t been done before,” said Ehrlich, who worked with Jackson for almost 30 years, in an interview Tuesday.
Ehrlich produced the televised memorial to Jackson last year. He was with the singer the night before he died – and that’s when he first saw the 3-D clip of “Earth Song,” a call to action about the destruction of nature and animals by man.
“There are these incredible images of the beauties of nature, and then they are seen through the eyes of a little girl, and that girl falls asleep and when she wakes up, she is witness to the destruction of nature,” said Ehrlich. “It’s all about questioning what our values are.”
While a part of the clip was shown in the recent movie documentary “This Is It,” Ehrlich says the Grammys will show the full piece in 3-D. When he saw it with Jackson that night, Ehrlich said the singer was moved to tears.
“It was pretty emotional for him,” Ehrlich said. “Afterward he said to me that that song and that piece and that portion of the concert was as important to him than anything else in the show.”
Ehrlich decided to use the five-minute 3-D clip at the Grammys to produce a show-stopper worthy of Jackson, who provided the awards show with some of its most memorable moments, including his then-historic eight Grammy wins in 1984.
“The promise is this is going to be pretty spectacular,” he said.
Viewers can get free 3-D “Grammy” glasses from Target stores nationwide from Jan. 26 through Jan. 31, when the 52nd annual Grammy Awards will air live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on CBS (8 p.m. EST). Ehrlich says TV viewers can see the clip without the glasses, but won’t see the 3-D effect.
Jackson will be honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy during the show.
“This is the one award from us that Michael never received,” said Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow.
Portnow said he expected Jackson’s family to be in the audience but their attendance hasn’t been confirmed.
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