The Inside Story on life in Michael Jackson’s shadow (1995)

December 9, 2012

90's Flashback

Joy, Chantal and Wade Robson in LA.

Wade with Michael Jackson in a commercial for LA Gear.

Wade Robson and Michael Jackson

An Australian family's courage to beat the odds

Flashback to Variety Today 1995


AT the House of Blues in Hollywood - with Dirty Dancing's Patrick Swayze in the audience - young fans queued around the building to get Wade and De Wayne's autographs, following the release of Quo's debut album.

The album, unlike many of its contemporaries, pushes anti-drug/violence, stay-in-school values, embedded in the hearts of Quo by their producers and superstar Michael Jackson.

Australian-born Wade, who won National acclaim as a dancer `Downunder' on popular talent show Starsearch rose quickly to the forefront of young performers in Australia after winning a Michael Jackson dance competition in Brisbane. The win led to him dancing with his idol on stage at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and pint-sized Wade - tagged `Little One' by Michael - stole the show and won the superstar's heart.

Life in LA, since moving there in September 1991, has been a far cry from their relatively quiet suburban lifestyle in Brisbane and, at times, Joy has been tempted to pack the six bags they took with them and head home, but it was not to be. "Michael told us when we were first considering a move to LA, to `follow our heart', and it felt right to go," said Joy. "The first 18 months in LA was really tough going. We had taken six suitcases and little money and knew no-one in LA, only Michael who spent much of the time away. And, we virtually had to start from scratch with Wade's career because he was unknown, but we persisted and eventually - though difficult - we found a good theatrical and dance agent, and started trying out at auditions."

Wade worked hard on his dancing and, for a while, was assisted by Michael Jackson's dancing tutor while working on the superstar's `Black and White', `Jam' and `Heal the World' videos, but it wasn't long before Joy - as Wade's manager - began to direct Wade towards being a versatile performer, opening opportunities in acting, singing, music and dancing.

While Michael was their friend, he never interfered with Wade's career ... only to offer advice, but the ultimate decision was Joy and Wades'. However, their lives became virtually `public property' overnight around the world when the news broke that young Wade was the `white boy' appearing as Michael Jackson in the controversial Pepsi Commercial. As a result, the commercial was screened only in the countries Michael visited on his `Dangerous' tour - and not in the USA.

Meanwhile, the Robson family's lives were thrown into chaos as press from around the world hounded them for the `inside story'.

Variety Today actually had the World Exclusive six months earlier when, having followed the young performer' career, it published the fact that Wade was the Aussie boy in the commercial.

However, it wasn't until the commercial was released that international media attention turned to the Robsons. "We were in Australia when the news broke and when we returned to LA the press wouldn't leave us alone. They tried to get us through out agents, were repeatedly knocking on our door, posed as couriers, followed us everywhere. It was quite scary," said Joy.

As a result, the family had to move from their West Hollywood apartment, and change all their numbers to bring a little sanity and privacy back into their lives. "Universal Studios did a search to find who did the Pepsi commercial and later were interested in doing a movie based on Wade's life," said Joy, still shaking her head in disbelief at being the centre of a media frenzy. It was, indeed, a little different to their much quieter lifestyle in suburban Brisbane.

Despite becoming `international news' almost overnight, the family were determined not to become prisoners in their own home, and continued in their efforts to gain recognition for Wade's talents as a performer. He made his television series debut as Stephanie's love interest in the highly successful `Full House' which was screened in Australia. He also appeared in the Rhythm and Blues sitcom.

Joy said Wade and daughter Chantal developed an American accent almost immediately. As a result, Wade was doing three or four auditions between 3-7pm each day. While Wade worked hard, attending audition after audition, learning lines, practising and rehearsing his dance movements, so too did Joy - his greatest supporter. The two are almost inseparable and make career decisions together.

"He is a mature 12-year-old who knows what he wants whether it be an album cover design or an acting role. He is a born performer," said Joy. "When Wade was just a tiny tot in Brisbane he used to stand on the sidewalks and dance for customers - much to their delight - at Chatswood Hills. He was shy off stage but when performing was quite extrovert," said Joy. "If he had his way he would sleep on stage."

Wade began dancing at age 2 by impersonating Michael Jackson on his `Making of thriller' video. At age 5 he turned professional.

While Wade is the on-stage talent, Joy is his mentor, protector and confidante. She handles everything from make-up, wardrobe and music to securing a deal with some of the big names of the American entertainment scene.

Media attention again turned to the Robson family when Michael Jackson was facing child molestation charges, and Wade was called to face the grand jury, administered by Judge Ito who is currently hearing the O.J. Simpson trial. "I feel like we had a baptism of fire with the Pepsi commercial and then the allegations," said Joy. "The media just wouldn't leave us alone. We had to put on disguises and one TV crew even tried to film us through the kitchen window."

To this day, the Robson family maintain Michael is innocent. "Michael would hurt himself before he would hurt a child. He didn't have a childhood himself, so it is important to him to see others having one," said Joy. It was Wade's decision to `go public' on television and proclaim Michael's innocence. "It was a tough thing to do - especially for an 11-year-old - but we couldn't stand by and let people believe Michael had been anything but a friend to us," said Joy, with Wade nodding his approval as he sat in on our interview.

"He would never hurt anyone," said Wade, with a maturity that belied his years. Wade said Michael was an inspiration to him and a guiding force spiritually but his career, including the move into recording, was his and Joy's decision alone.

Wade's ultimate career goal is to be a record producer, actor and director, and slim and attractive 15-year-old sister Chantal is also turning a few heads with her dancing and modelling.

Until November 1994 Chantal attended LA's Hamilton Music Academy (it is what is called a `magnet' school with programs for performing arts students who are exceptional at one of the arts - acting, singing or dancing). Chantal has a long-term goal to be an entertainment attorney and performer but for now she is dancing behind some of America's top young recording artists, including her little brother Wade's latest video.

Wade has a home tutor for school to allow him time for auditions, rehearsals and the hectic touring schedules which he consistently faces.

After establishing himself as an actor and dancer during the first 18 months in the States, Wade's career took a new direction in June, 1993 when he combined his dancing technique with his yet untapped vocal skills to enter the lucrative recording industry. He adopted the name `Kaos' and together with his 14-year-old co-singer/dancer `Syco Smoov' (De Wayne) signed a major contract with recording company MJJ on the Epic Label which comes under the Sony umbrella, and began work with Mariah Carey's brother, Morgan Carey, Josh De Bear and excecutive producer Jerry Greenberg, of MJJ/Epic.

It was an exciting moment for Wade when Joy and I arrived home from Sony and handed him his first album. Even more exciting for us all was hearing it played for the first time on the radio. It had taken 18 months to record the album which featured 10 tracks. The boys were assisted on their first single `Blowin' Up' by Teddy Riley, who produced Michael Jackson's Dangerous Album, and Aaron Hall who did back-up vocals. Quo has recently been signed to a new manager in Dick Scott, who handled teenage success story `New Kids on the Block', Marky Marc and C&C Music Factory.

Three years since their arrival on American soil, the Robson family are heavily entrenched in the entertainment scene. It is a tribute to Joy's courage, persistence and belief in her son's ability, and their fortitude to stand up for what they believe is right. They could easily have repacked their six bags and returned home to Australia, but they - as a team - decided to stay and help a friend in need, while at the same time defy the odds and pursue their own goals in their own way.

"When we first came here I thought we would have achieved more in three years but now - I look at the reality of life and the business - and compare what we have done with others who have been in the industry all their lives, and I think we have done very well," said Joy.

I would do it all again for the same reasons I did it in the first place. I had to give it a try or I would be forever wondering if I could have done it. I believed I had nothing to lose."

Joy said she has been lucky to have had the full support and encouragement of her parents and family `Downunder'. "We really miss them too," she said.

But despite the family's roller coaster existence since arriving in LA, they are determined to ride it to the end. "We have learned to stand up and fight for what and who we believe in. It has been a hard lesson, but surviving this we feel we can face anything. It would have been easy to pack our bags and go home but it wouldn't have been the right thing to do."

Quo are currently filming the video for the expected March release of their new single `Quo Funk'. the family are still creating `news' and attention wherever they go but, these days, it is on their own achievements and not due to their life living in the shadow of one Michael Jackson.

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