MJ’s Back-Up Singer Speaks Out

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On July 7th, a virtually unknown singer stepped on stage at the Staples Center, during Michael Jackson’s unforgettable memorial, and delivered her best rendition of his “Heal the World.” She wowed the crowd and the millions watching around the world, but her identity remained unknown. The mystery singer was Judith Hill, a Pasadena, California-based vocalist who was recruited to be one of the backup singers for Jackson’s This Is It! concerts at London’s O2 Arena. UrbanBeautyCollective got the chance to sit down and speak with Hill, and asked that she share her recollections about the King of Pop. Read the excerpts below and get the full story here:

HOW SHE WAS CHOSEN
As producers Kenny Ortega and Ken Ehrlich were preparing for the Michael Jackson public memorial, Judith was approached about a spotlight performance for the event. “I had already been chosen to sing “Heal The World” in the actual tour, so I suppose they felt comfortable with me,” explains Hill. “Then, a few days before the memorial, they called and asked me to lead “We Are the World.” I was flattered, but I didn’t dwell in the moment or anything. I was dealing with the loss still. I wanted to do whatever I could to help, especially the family.”

THE AFTERMATH
The aftermath of her performance was tremendous. She was inundated with media requests, fan mail and industry executives. She immediately was featured in-studio with legendary anchor Mary Hart on “Entertainment Tonight.” But beyond that interview, Judith kept a mostly low profile. “I didn’t want to do so much. One or two (interviews) were good enough to express how I felt, I thought. I didn’t want to prostitute myself,” state Hill. “It was a brand new situation for me to have press coming to me. I was still grieving and processing.” She has only been able to reflect on her July performance after the fact and realize how far reaching the performance was. “I couldn’t believe the places the fan mail came from. There were many, many countries in Africa and Asia. So many wonderful notes from fans saying that something in the performance touched them. It was really touching for me.”

HOW SHE MET MICHAEL
Within three years of her college graduation, Judith heard about an audition for Michael Jackson’s upcoming tour through a friend. It turns out that the tour auditions for the “This Is It” extravaganza were by referral only. “I was referred by a friend, and when I got to the audition it turns out that I knew the musical director from something else,” says Hill. “That’s LA for you.” She describes the try-out as a “small audition” and shortly afterward she got the call that she had made it onto the tour. “LA is a funny place. One day you’re out of a job and the next day you’re singing with Michael Jackson. It’s all just a phone call away,” describes Hill. “It felt like it came out of nowhere. But, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it came by being true to the music and to myself. I don’t know.”

REMEMBERING MICHAEL
When Judith talks about Michael, her voice sounds light and airy, as if recalling a lovely memory. “When he first came in where we all were, he was so sweet and endearing. He had a big, big spirit. His spirit was so sweet. He was very kind towards people. He was so nice to all of us and so warm,” she recalls. “Michael had such a gift. I mean, to be so warm and to embrace us like he did with everything he went through is amazing. After all that he had endured in his life? You can’t talk about people doing you shady or doing you wrong, and try to have an attitude about it. He went through a lot and still gave love back.” When we asked what was the one lesson she learned from Michael that she will take with her throughout her career, she answered quickly and definitively that “musically he never apologized for who he was. He was completely himself. Not following anyone. He was locked in his own world. He was true to himself no matter what was said. That is a good lesson for me, I think. To stay true to my vision, to my music and to myself, like Michael.”

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