Janet Bares Belly, Not Soul

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2006

Janet Jackson was in Washington yesterday to do . . . something. Exactly what is unclear.

What we do know is that the R&B diva took a short break from doing whatever else she does and deigned to spend about 15 mid-afternoon minutes in a chi-chi hotel ballroom, offering not very revelatory answers to questions about her personal life, her career, her fans and a forthcoming album, "20 Years Old" -- an album that none of the reporters in the room had been given a chance to hear.

(Q: So, how is that CD? A: Might be the best thing we've never heard!)

The event, such as it was, was billed as "The D.C. Press Junket for the International Icon," and throughout the exercise in celebrity-journalism torture, said international icon -- multiplatinum recording star, sister of Michael, flasher of nipple -- offered very little beyond a look at her newly trim bod. Jackson, 40, generously shared that much of herself with the cameras, courtesy of a midriff-baring cropped vest that was held together, at the bosom, by a single button that was holding on for dear life.

Otherwise, Jackson threw very few bones to the hungry journalists and instead served a big, steaming bowl of nothing. (Not that you go to a Janet Jackson news conference expecting to hear a soliloquy on the stem-cell debate or anything. But still.)

Jackson has more or less been in hiding since her infamous Super Bowl halftime show in 2004, and it was roughly 45 minutes past the appointed hour when she finally emerged in the Mandarin Oriental hotel's Grand Ballroom.

What was she doing behind that black velvet curtain all that time? Sit-ups? Makeup? Eating a cup of mixed veggies -- which, we learned from reading Us Weekly, is a critical component of her new diet?

Before her arrival, Jackson sent an advance team out. It was led by her beau, the superproducer Jermaine Dupri, who was dripping in jewelry, a Louis Vuitton BlackBerry holster hanging from his hip.

"Sorry we're late," he said. "Dealing with traffic and other things in D.C." (Never mind that hotel employees said Dupri, Jackson, et al. had arrived at the hotel plenty early.)

After Dupri's introduction, Jackson came onto the stage, appearing shy and demure, wardrobe notwithstanding. She smiled uneasily for the cameras. "Everyone's so quiet," she said. Nobody responded. "I wasn't raised in a quiet home."

She sat. The questions began. There was one from a Washington Blade editor. Why do you think you're so popular with gay people? she was asked -- though not by the editor himself. The assembled journalists had been given 3 1/2 -by-4 1/4 -inch notecards, along with instructions to write their questions and then pass them to the left, to a publicist-cum-moderator.

In a mousy voice that kept fading out on the PA, Jackson said something about sometimes writing about gay topics, even though she didn't have to, and mumble mumble mumble.

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