Janet Jackson addresses secret DeBarge baby, relationship with Michael in 'Janet' documentary

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Nearly 50 years into her career, Janet Jackson is still exhibiting the “Control” that turned her into a cultural icon.

Jackson and her brother Randy executive-produced the two-night, four-part documentary,Janet Jackson.,” premiering on Lifetime and A&E (Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. EST/PST).

“It’s just something that needs to be done,” Jackson, 55, says of the film during the opening scene as she's being driven through her hometown of Gary, Indiana. Jackson interrupts her own commentary when she notices a mural of five of her brothers on a neighborhood wall and starts to cry.

Considering this illumination of her personal life and career is being orchestrated by one of the most famously private and enigmatic figures in music history – herself – it’s refreshing to see Jackson approach this unveiling with candor.

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The Jackson siblings including Janet (second from left) sharing a family moment. The documentary "Janet Jackson." airs on Lifetime and A&E Jan. 28-29, 2022.
The Jackson siblings including Janet (second from left) sharing a family moment. The documentary "Janet Jackson." airs on Lifetime and A&E Jan. 28-29, 2022.

The grabby headlines are tackled early: the stern guidance of family patriarch Joseph; Jackson’s elopement with R&B singer James DeBarge and their alleged secret child; her defiance in shunning her father’s management to relaunch her music career; a clandestine marriage to dancer René Elizondo Jr.

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And that’s just in the first two hours of "Janet Jackson."

The second part of the series will dip into child molestation allegations against brother Michael (“Guilty by association,” she says she felt); the scandalous Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 with Justin Timberlake; her late-in-life motherhood; and Michael’s death.

It’s been an exhausting and circuitous road from the 670-square-foot house in Indiana – which housed the nine Jackson siblings and their parents – to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which Jackson entered in 2019.

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A young Janet with father Joe from "Janet Jackson.," the documentary about her life airing on Lifetime and A&E.
A young Janet with father Joe from "Janet Jackson.," the documentary about her life airing on Lifetime and A&E.

Between the five years of footage by her documentary crew – enlisted to chronicle her 2017 tour – and the 10 years of previously unseen home videos shot by ex-husband Elizondo, as well as vintage concert and TV performance clips, the visual offerings are intriguing.

Interview clips with siblings Tito and Rebbie and mother Katherine, along with celebrity reflections from Questlove, Whoopi Goldberg, Missy Elliott, Norman Lear and Debbie Allen, among others, occasionally edify. But whenever Jackson fills the screen, a delicate voice under a heap of imposing scarves, it’s time to straighten up and pay attention.

Here are more highlights from the documentary:

Did Janet Jackson have a baby with James DeBarge?

While Jackson and the dulcet-toned DeBarge singer were only married for a year, tittle-tattle has persisted for decades that Jackson gave birth to a daughter with James, with sister Rebbie recruited as Jackson’s proxy in motherhood.

Jackson’s denial could be construed as oblique. “I could never keep a child from James,” she says, battling emotion. "How could I keep a child away from their father? I could never do that. That's not right.”

She explains her weight gain at the time was a result of taking birth control, a physical shift that only fueled the gossip.

Rebbie’s reaction is more forthright. “They were saying I was raising her daughter. I don’t know where that ridiculous idea came from.”

And Debbie Allen, Jackson’s co-star at the time in “Fame,” registers incredulity at the idea. “Where’s the baby?” she asks, noting that Jackson was always with the cast on set.

Jackson also details the harrowing scenes of DeBarge's drug abuse during their brief union.

Janet Jackson is the focus of "Janet," the two-night, four-hour documentary about her life.
Janet Jackson is the focus of "Janet," the two-night, four-hour documentary about her life.

How Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis changed Janet Jackson’s musical life

After heading backstage at a 1985 concert from The Time – Jam and Lewis’ Minneapolis-based funk outfit – Jackson decided to work with the young producers to help her craft a signature sound.

“She had more feistiness than anyone had heard,” Lewis says.

Jackson’s 1986 album “Control” sliced through the charts, powered by Jam and Lewis’ innovative funk-pop. Singles “Nasty,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and the title track proved that Janet wasn’t the only Jackson capable of radio domination.

Footage of Jackson rehearsing video choreography with Paula Abdul – who also worked with The Jacksons on their “Torture” video – is endearing. But it’s the decade-worth of home video footage from Jackson’s then-husband, Elizondo, that proves invaluable.

Janet Jackson in a performance clip from "Janet Jackson.," the four-hour documentary of the iconic singer's life, airing on Lifetime and A&E Jan. 28-29, 2022.
Janet Jackson in a performance clip from "Janet Jackson.," the four-hour documentary of the iconic singer's life, airing on Lifetime and A&E Jan. 28-29, 2022.

Knowing the pressure surrounding a follow-up album, Jackson again turned to Jam and Lewis.

But crafting what would become 1989’s dynamic “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” endured challenges.

At the Flyte Tyme studios in Minneapolis, Jackson does not want to hear Jam’s persistent coaching to “put energy on the song” and, after a cranky squabble, she walks out of the studio, leaving Elizondo’s camera to shoot nothing but the ceiling.

Aura of Michael Jackson always loomed

“Even with the success of ‘Control,’ I don’t think she was able to escape Michael’s shadow,” Jam says as they embark on the “Rhythm Nation” recording.

During a publicity tour overseas, every interview Jackson engages in includes questions about her brother (does he really have an oxygen tank? When is his next album coming?), and she gamely indulges with blithe answers.

But when a couple of fans peer into Jackson’s limo and fire off a series of questions about Michael, anyone would understand her waning patience.

Jackson acquiesces that her surname is a proverbial blessing and curse.

It “opened a lot of doors, but having that last name comes with a great deal of scrutiny.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Janet Jackson addresses secret baby, Michael Jackson in new doc