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Michael Jackson was an icon. Although the peak of his popularity was before L.A. Youth writers were born, he still had an impact on them.

Illustration by Oscar Rodriguez,
L.A. Youth Archives

To many, Michael Jackson was the King Of Pop, but to me, he was more than that. Jackson was a mentor, I related to the songs he sung and he I feel he was a help. He was also a role model because he helped kids in Africa and did community service. I grew up listening to Jackson and loving him for who he was and not who he had become. His music was my favorite. My favorite songs were “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Black and White,” “Beat it,” “Thriller” and Bad!” His creative dancing and unique voice echoed throughout the world and everyone knows and loves him as I do.

As far as the molestation goes, I can’t believe he did something like that. I don’t want people to remember Jackson only as the King of Pop or an accused child molester, or even a person who changed his face. I want people to know Jackson for all of the good he did in his life. He helped people, always did community service for kids who were in need and gave back. I honor him, because after everything he went through and continued to go through, he still kept fighting!

There will be nobody who can replace him or his music, he was one of a kind. His death is tragic, I’m at a loss for words. He gave music a different sound and made a new name for African Americans and that’s what nobody will ever forget. Rest in Peace.
Charmaine Peggese, 16, Cerritos HS

A few years ago, I made a list of four musical artists I wanted to see in concert. As of Thursday with the death of Michael Jackson, the number of living artists on that list is down to one. Jackson’s death was a very sad surprise to me. Although my family primarily speaks Spanish, we are all huge fans of Jackson. I love many of his songs and have my favorites on my iPod. My brothers and I would argue over which one of us could do the Moonwalk the best while we were growing up.

When Jackson went to court for accusations of child molestation, I was hesitant to give an opinion because the complete story of what occurred is unknown. Reports then came out about his “erratic” behavior. Then I learned more about his home, Neverland (which had an amusement park and a zoo). To me it represented a dream. As reported, Jackson did not have a normal childhood, as he was always rehearsing and performing as a child star. Neverland, it seems, was something that was very dear to him. It was a place where he could take all his fame and fortune, which he earned through amazing talent and business sense, and find something that was important to him—his childhood. Until this death, it seemed as though he was working to make a comeback and hopefully put the demons of his past behind him and show the world that he was still the King of Pop. Sadly, we will never see if that plan could have beared fruit.

Jackson will always be remembered for his talent and the fog of controversy in his life. However, I am surprised and happy to see that many of the people who used to mock Jackson are finally showing respect. Much of his life will never be known or understood, but his talents and inspiration to millions of people across the world will never be forgotten.
Aaron Sayago, 18, Fairfax HS

So many kids try to rock it like Michael Jackson and that’s the most amazing thing ever. Since I was little, I’ve seen his moves imitated at elementary school dance performances, on TV and in movies. I’m not a die-hard fan, but I do think his music is incredible. No one did what Jackson did in the 80s and afterwards. He was a real entertainer and an artist. MJ did what music should do—he electrified and fascinated his audience. As for his private life, it definitely wasn’t private. I think he was a pretty mysterious person; except for close family and friends, I don’t think any of us really knew Jackson. At the end of the day, people are going to remember him for his gift, music.
Sharon Kim, 18, Beverly Hills HS

When I heard about the King Of Pop Michael Jackson’s death, I did not want to believe it. He was such an INCREDIBLE person who I looked up to. He touched people all over the world, and I’m hoping I can do the same. I felt it was so unreal because I never thought Jackson would ever die, I thought he was invincible. I even cried, I was so hurt because he was truly a legend.

My parents are huge fans, so I know almost every Jackson song. One of my favorite videos by him, of course, is “Thriller” and the other is “Bad.” My most favorite song is “Butterflies.” I also like the songs “Black or White,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” There are so many, that the list goes on.

I believe that Jackson is a genuine person. He did so much for people all over the world, not just the United States. It’s amazing he did that before 50 years old. I don’t believe he was guilty of any of the child molestations or strange behavior at all. I believe that Jackson was an oddball because of his wanting giraffes as pets, but that doesn’t make him a molester. I believe that he was too much of a good person to do that. Even after being charged, he got right back up and kept his life going. Jackson had an impact on this world, and now that he’s gone, the impact is even bigger.
Taylor Moore, 15, Westchester HS

Barely a month ago, I did a group project on the 80s for my AP U.S. history class. In a span of three weeks, my group and I knew all there was to know about the 80’s and we loved it, especially the music—Michael Jackson’s music to be specific. As we watched him shimmy in his glittering clothes in his music videos on YouTube, we were spellbound by his voice, his amazing flexibility, and most of all, his boundless energy when he performed live on the stage.

As the news of his death spreads around the world, I am in disbelief. When we studied Jackson’s many achievements in pop culture, it had seemed so real because he was still alive. Even now as his hit songs play loudly from my neighbor’s house, I can’t help but appreciate what awesome music he has left for us to remember him by. Although by the time I was born, Jackson was more famous for his eccentric acts than his music, I feel that we should focus on his many achievements rather than the scandals that have surrounded his private life. Jackson was a human being, just like any one of us, who had a bit more talent than most of us. We should all forget the rumors surrounding him and honor the milestones in music, fashion and culture that he left us before he died.
Michelle Ruan, 17, Alhambra HS

As I logged onto Facebook Thursday, I was greeted by a dozen new status updates from friends, all announcing that Michael Jackson had died and how saddened they were to discover the news. While I believe it is wonderful to pay respects, I also found it upsetting. These were the same people who often made fun of his appearance and were quick to bring up jokes concerning his child molestation accusations. In fact, I remember one of them making fun of him around a month ago.

I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t listened to Michael Jackson—in fact, I practically grew up with his music. In elementary school, when most mothers would have their kids listen to those cassettes that recited the alphabet, mine would play “Thriller” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Those two songs were my absolute favorites, and would continue to be, even as I discovered other types of music that I loved.

I’m happy to say that even though I was constantly surrounded by magazines at the supermarket that exploited the controversies around him and TV shows often taking jabs at his plastic surgeries, I always tried to not let any of that affect my appreciation for him as an artist. Celebrities are forced to deal with a lot, but I can think of few that have had to endure as much as Jackson. I hope that, as his memory is kept alive, he will be remembered not for his tabloid scandals or court trials, but for his truly rare talent and achievements as the legendary King of Pop.
Rachel Kang, 16, Torrance HS

Michael Jackson’s death shocked me and it was sad to see a legend die at such a young age. Although I wasn’t alive when Michael Jackson became popular and became the icon he did, I was alive for the after-party. My friends always made fun of me for listening to MJ, claiming that I was listening to a child molester’s music. But even with the constant pressure, I continued to listen to him and fell in love with the song “Billie Jean,” which I even made a dance for. “Beat it,” “Thriller,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” were constantly playing on my iPod. When I went on an East Coast trip with my school, my friend and I sang Jackson’s music on the bus every day, which soon turned into most of the bus singing along with us. To me, MJ was the only person in the world who could unite people with his music. May the King of Pop rest in peace.
Kevin Ko, 14, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. When I was younger, he was just one of those “old singers” who my parents enjoyed and I thought was lame. I never bothered to look for his music or collect his albums like some of my friends did. My first impression of him actually was negative. I watched one of his music videos on a Halloween special. His voice, high pitched, and his dancing, radical, was unlike anything I had seen before. I found it frightening because of, honestly, his ghostly appearance.

After that, I rarely found Jackson appealing until one day almost two years ago. I was a freshman and I happened to be on YouTube looking for new music. I accidentally clicked on a link and came across Jackson’s song “What More Can I Give?” written as a tribute to the victims of Sept. 11. He wrote the song and organized more than 15 famous artists to sing it, including Celine Dion, Beyoncé, Reba McEntire, Luther Vandross, Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey. I immediately fell in love with not only the tune of the song but also its lyrics. The message of simply lending a helping hand as a friend, charity worker or just being a good person was powerful and inspiring. After listening to the song, my perspective of Jackson changed. I realized I had underestimated him. Not only was he filled with incredible talent, but full of insight and obviously had a caring heart. I soon began to appreciate his music and enjoyed his Moonwalk. “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” and mainly his songs from his 1982 album Thriller, became some of my most played songs on iTunes. Eventually, I discovered the song “We Are the World,” which became my favorite.

When I heard of Jackson’s death, I was sleeping. My friend texted me telling me that he was dead. My initial reaction was disbelief. I refused to believe her until I checked on the Internet. Indeed, he had died from a heart attack. I was speechless and felt twinges of sadness. I can’t say much about his death because I didn’t know him personally, but I do know that he will leave an impact for years to come. From his ability to shift from crazy to calm, soothing songs, to his charm that made millions fall in love with him. Despite all the troubles Jackson had with reports of child molestation and battles in court, he is still a legend and his talent is undeniable. He was insightful and caring despite all his troubles. His influence on music and the world will last for generations to come.
Kaitlyn Tsai, 15, Walnut HS

As a 17-year-old, I’ve never really considered myself to be a huge Michael Jackson fan. I’ve always admired his voice, but I’ve never been much of a dedicated follower. Yesterday, on the day of his death, when every store and radio station was playing Jackson songs on a loop, I realized I knew his songs a lot better than I thought I did. His music has transcended pop music, and it is so deeply ingrained in our culture that any person on the street can sing a few lines from “Billy Jean” or the chorus of “Thriller.” Even for those of us who didn’t live through his hey-day, he has affected today’s music more than we will ever know. I think everyone can appreciate his amazing voice and dancing talent, which we might not see or hear the likes of again. Rest In Peace, MJ.
Edison Mellor-Goldman, 17, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

Michael Jackson was an interesting man. I’m not sure how I felt about him. Most of what I know about him came from watching the news and seeing him being prosecuted for child molestation. Whenever his name came up when talking to my friends, it was in relation to a joke or to his odd behavior. The songs of his I’ve listened to aren’t that bad— in fact, his early songs were very good. It saddens me that his success went to his head. He had a lot of talent, but I think he will be remembered more by my generation for his peculiar antics.
Lane Erickson, 16, South HS (Torrance)

When I first heard about it, I was on my break from my internship at around 3:30. My best friend and I were at the Glendale Galleria and we were looking for food. We went up one of the escalators and a guy holding his cell phone was coming down the escalator on the other side and told us, “Michael Jackson is dead!” Me and my friend looked at each other thinking, “Wow, clearly that is a lie and that guy is crazy.” She drove me back to the office where I intern and I sat down on the computer. My homepage was Yahoo and right there in bold letters it said, “Michael Jackson, dead at 50.” I stared at the screen for a second to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I called my friend and we couldn’t believe it. We felt so stupid for thinking that guy at the mall was crazy.
 I still can’t swallow the idea. Of course I have listened to “Thriller” and “Beat It” and my friends at school all know how to do the Thriller dance. I love the songs by the Jackson 5 and I always thought Jackson’s voice had such a unique and smooth tone.

I never really followed all his highly publicized trials and legal issues because those weren’t the things that caught my attention when I thought of Jackson. I’m not sure I could judge him as a person because I only know the musical side to him. I think as a musician, he is a creative genius and he is undoubtedly inspiring. It seems like Jackson was misunderstood lots of the time because the media never seemed to fail to point out his surgeries and private business and didn’t give him the respect he deserved. It’s always sad when people don’t appreciate someone as a person until they have died. Hopefully people will learn to judge him from the things he wanted to be publicized for, like his music, which I don’t think will ever be forgotten.
Jean Park, 16, Harvard-Westlake School

Today was a very upsetting day for some of my older family members who had grown up with Michael Jackson’s music and his dancing. Unfortunately, I was born in the generation that didn’t get the great opportunity to listen to his music, but I knew that Jackson was great.

On Thursday, my auntie had said that they pronounced Jackson’s death, and I said, calmly, “No way, Michael Jackson can’t die.” My mom simply said, “Please don’t let it be. This would be so sad.” I was sure that Jackson hadn’t died, but when I turned on the radio, the news said that he died at the young age of 50.

My mom told me stories about how my cousin would pray to God that Jackson would be her husband and she was faithful that he would be, someday! No matter what negative things Jackson did in his life, those things could never overshadow how talented he was. I love all his songs—the fast ones like “Beat It” and “Thriller” and also the slow ones. Jackson was just great! I will miss him.
Lindsey Washington, 13, King Drew Medical Magnet HS

Although Michael Jackson is considered to have been before my time, I have found myself time and again listening to his unforgettable music. From “P.Y.T.” to “Thriller” to “Billie Jean,” Jackson has forever left an impact on the music industry.

I first learned about his death from a phone call from my uncle who asked whether I knew if Jackson had passed away, an idea unbelievable at that moment. Later that afternoon, while entering the gym for volleyball practice I was approached by my teammates, who are Jackson fans, and was greeted with confirmation of his death. Like the rest of the world, I was dumbfounded. How could the individual possessing that mesmerizing voice which gave us countless hits such as “Beat It,” “Rock with You,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” cease to exist?

Although Jackson faced various allegations of molesting children, I have remained and will remain a fan. I do not judge him based on his actions, but on his music. I have grown up with his earlier music (compliments of my mother and father), have witnessed the transformation of his sound into his more modern works, and intend to continue to let the remarkable music of Michael Jackson be a part of my life.
Breanna Lujan, 16, West Covina High School

I was shocked to learn about his death. I always thought he was invincible with his contributions to humanity and his famous dance moves. His music always made me dance, cry, and sometimes it made me smile almost non-stop. My parents started me off with his earlier music that he made with the Jackson 5 and later from his solo career. My favorite songs have to be “Smooth Criminal,” “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Ben.”

I feel that Jackson was someone who was one-of-a-kind, despite people accusing him of being a child molester. I don’t think he was capable of doing that. I believe that he contributed his part for humanity and made his unforgettable mark on pop music.
Luisa Mendoza, 15, Lynwood HS

I grieve for him, mainly for his music. His pop songs helped me relax, and it’s too bad this is all we get from his brilliant music mind. I listened to his earlier songs like “Bad” and “Beat It.” I know a shadow has been cast over him because of the molestation accusations, but really, who are we to question his ethics? He still has a record of being one of the greatest American artists out there, and the fact that he contributed this talent to society is good enough for me. I’m very sorry to hear that he died. It’s an irreplaceable loss of talent and personality.
Jason Wang, 16, South HS (Torrance)

I was lying in bed when I received a text. I thought it was just another of those chain texts. After the fifth text I was confused and shocked. I got on the Internet and searched Michael Jackson’s death. To my surprise, it was true. I was like no way! I did not know how to react or how to feel, it was just huge news.

I really enjoyed his music. I listened to the earlier songs, but not much of the more recent ones. I was shocked when I heard about the accusations of child molestation and strange behavior. I think I’m still not over that news. Well, all I have left to say is R.I.P. Michael Jackson.
Rosa Gomez, 15, Areté Preparatory Academy (Santa Monica)

I was traveling home with my three best friends when all of a sudden the bus driver spoke into the intercom and announced that Michael Jackson was reported dead. My friends and I were confused and we questioned whether this was true. When I got home I Googled it and found out it was true.

I enjoy his song “Thriller.” It’s catchy and has memorable lyrics. I never really heard his other songs. But surely he will remain legendary and memorable to people through his music, as well as his dancing, as many have identified with him. May he rest in peace. This world won’t forget him.
Ernesto Pineda, 17, Animo Film & Theatre Arts Charter HS

Michael Jackson was a great performer. I think that he was young and shouldn’t have died, but maybe it was his time. He was only 50 years old. Today, while on the computer, I saw a lot of people saying Jackson had died. I didn’t pay attention because I thought it might be a rumor. But when my mother got home the first thing she said was “Did you hear Michael Jackson passed away this afternoon?” I said no way. She said to listen to the radio. They were talking about him. I was shocked. Nobody expected him to die.

She turned on the TV and on every channel they were talking about him or had his music on. On the radio I heard a lot of people say, “I felt like I just lost my childhood.” Later, when I was in the car, people were in their cars, listening to his music very loud and looked sad.

I like his music. I listen to it when I’m happy just to dance to it. I also listen to the slow songs when I’m sad and writing in my journal. My favorite song is “Thriller.” I love the video and how he pretended to be a monster. I love the way he dances. Nobody danced the way he did.

I never listened to the rumors about him molesting kids or when Eminem made a song about him. I never thought bad about him. He had a hard childhood. Right now what worries me are his three kids. I hope they will be safe and they can get over their father’s death. Jackson will never be forgotten and will always be in my heart.
Jocelyn Lopez, 16

I like pretty much all his music. I think he is very talented. I like “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal.” He has a nice voice and his music is always catchy. Still I think he is kinda strange. I’m not gonna judge him for being an accused pedophile because it’s not my place to judge him and I don’t know him. I’m worried about his kids and their future.

It was a shock to me because he is a celebrity I actually know about. I usually don’t know the celebrities who have died so it was a first to me.
Sally Choi, 15, Linden Center

I thought today would be ordinary but it turned out to be tragic. I was watching TV with my sister when we heard that Michael Jackson was in the hospital after being found in cardiac arrest. I hoped that he would be OK. About an hour later my mom called me crying saying that her favorite icon had died. I didn’t believe her at first but then I turned to Channel 2 and realized it was true.

My sister and I just looked at each other in disbelief. How could the King of Pop die suddenly just weeks before his huge comeback? I am deeply saddened about the death of Jackson. It is still unbelievable to me.

My sister, who is only 10, made posters that read “R.I.P. Michael Jackson.” My sister, mom and I are all huge fans of his. My favorite songs are “Billie Jean” and “Beat it.”

I am listening to his greatest hits album as I write this. Though some people say he had problems, I have learned to forgive him and see past his mistakes.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson. You will TRULY be missed. Long live the King of Pop.
Patricia Chavarria, 17, Cesar Chavez HS (Compton)

Below is an excerpt from a story published in L.A. Youth in March-April 2003

My mom introduced me to Michael Jackson. I remember dancing to the Off the Wall album in the car. My mom would tell me to sit still wherever we were going because I would try to dance out of my seat belt. I wanted to dance like he did on the videos. I wanted to sing like he did on the tapes. And I wanted to dress like he did on the posters. The singing and the clothes didn’t really happen, but I started to practice dancing like him, though I never mastered the backwards Moonwalk.
By Gary Gray, 16, Sunland Christian School
To read the entire story, click here.