Whitney Houston was named queen of the prom at the 26th annual NAACP Image Awards Wednesday night, but unexpected guest Michael Jackson got all the dances.
While Houston picked up three of the silver statuettes, including Entertainer of the Year, Jackson stole the show with a surprise appearance to present the best choreography award.
Entering to a five-minute standing ovation, Jackson used the TV spot as a pulpit to plead his innocence of allegations of sexually abusing a young boy.
“(People) believe the worst before they hear the truth, because not only am I presumed innocent, I am innocent,” said Jackson, decked in a blue military jacket with red braid. “And I know that the truth will be my salvation.”
Meanwhile, NBC, which taped the show for broadcast at 11:30 p.m. Jan. 22, failed in an attempt to bar its news counterparts from covering the Jackson appearance.
The spontaneous perf surprised 2,500 supporters and friends jammed into the Pasadena Civic Center to watch the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People honor TV shows, features, musicians and thesps that repped positive images of blacks last year.
Houston dominatedthe ceremony, carrying home the female artist and musicvideo trophies for “I’m Every Woman.” Soundtrack for “The Bodyguard” also won two awards for outstanding album and outstanding soundtrack.
Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” was a huge hit with the NAACP voters, copping four awards. Denzel Washington, hot off critical success in “Philadelphia” and “The Pelican Brief,” won for lead actor in “Malcolm X.”
Angela Bassett picked up the female lead trophy for “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” as well as the supporting actress award for “Malcolm X.” And Al Freeman Jr. won for supporting actor for the biopic of the black leader.
On the TV side, Martin Lawrence was named best actor in a comedy series for “Martin,” which was also named best comedy series. Jasmine Guy took actress honors in a comedy series for “A Different World.”
The canceled but socially conscious “I’ll Fly Away” continued to pick up posthumous awards, taking the drama series award and best actress in a drama series for Regina Taylor.
Blair Underwood won for actor in a drama series on “L.A. Law.” Underwood told reporters that the award was gratifying, as “this could very well be my last season on the show.”
As for coverage of Jackson, the scene was downright comical in the press room backstage, where NBC workers struggled in vain to cut the media off from viewing the Jackson speech.
First, web spinners shut off the live feed to the news cameras, prompting cries from producers for all the local affils and entertainment news shows. But the monitor feed to the room was still on.
So while TV reporters held their microphones to the monitor speaker and print journalists scribbled notes off the screen, NBC reps tried to shut off the monitors one by one. While they could turn off the image, Jackson’s impassioned audio resonated throughout the room.
Asked why they were trying to bar the media from seeing and hearing Jackson, one harried NBC staffer said, “It’s just what we were told to do.”
CNN later used footage on the air that was shot from a TV monitor backstage. Other locals reported the event with plain audio.
Regina Jones, spokeswoman for the NAACP, said the org fully supported any media coverage of the star and regretted NBC’s attempts at foiling other media.
“It was not the best judgment call,” Jones said. “They just didn’t want to give away the best part of their show.” Jackson, meanwhile, invoked the NAACP to support his cause.
“NAACP members have been jailed and even killed in pursuit of these ideals,” he said. “None of these ideals is more meaningful to me than the notion that everyone is presumed to be innocent until they are convicted by a jury of their peers.
“I never really took the time to understand the importance of those ideals until now.”
A lawyer for the allegedly molested boy charged Jackson Thursday with using the awards ceremony as a “staged media event” to influence any future juries that might hear the case.
Jackson mouthpiece Howard Weitzman denied the appearance was any part of an organized media campaign. “His remarks were totally appropriate,” Weitzman said.
Other award winners included:
Youth actor-actress: Jaleel White, “Family Matters”
Television movie or miniseries: “Alex Haley’s Queen”
Actor, TV movie or miniseries: Danny Glover, “Alex Haley’s Queen”
Actress, TV movies or miniseries: Halle Berry, “Alex Haley’s Queen”
Film or TV choreography: Debbie Allen, 1993 Academy Awards.
New music artist: Shai, “If I Ever Fall in Love”
Male music artist: Luther Vandross
Duo or group: En Vogue