Stepping Out

In Her New Show, La Toya Jackson Gets Real

In “Life With La Toya,” Michael’s big sis gives a glimpse of “how I really am.” Allison Samuels reports.

Dale Berman/Oprah Winfrey Network

La Toya Jackson has never been on a date. Not a real one, she explains, due the strict rules of the Jehovah's Witnesses faith she and her famous siblings were raised under while growing up in the family’s Hayvenhurst estate in California. But that all changes this month as she explores love by going out on dates for the first time, ponders adoption, and more as the cameras roll for Life With La Toya on the OWN television network beginning today.

The older sister of the late superstar Michael Jackson says she felt the need to put all misconceptions about her life to rest when she agreed to a show that would display her most intimate thoughts and secrets.

“This is the real La Toya through and through,” the 56-year-old told The Daily Beast. “Neither Oprah nor the network told me what to say or do for the show. They left it up to me and told me to do me. So what you see is how I really am day in and day out.”

What the television audience will see is a woman who’s lived a life filled with fame, fortune, chaos, and fear. Fear early on of her father, with whom she’s now found peace, and later, fear of people abusing and taking advantage of her as she alleges her only husband, the late Jack Gordon, did simply because her last name was Jackson. (For the record she says she never dated Gordon, she simply married him.)

On the first episode of Life With La Toya, the singer who recently completed a stint on Celebrity Apprentice, goes to great lengths to explain her painful marriage to Gordon, in which she alleges she was physically and mentally abused, in a conversation with her best friend, Paris Hilton’s mom, Kathy.

“It was important to remind my friend and to let the audience know how hard that period of my life was for me and how it shaped me and my life,’’ said Jackson. “I didn’t speak to Kathy and many of my friends during that period so many people didn’t even understand what happened to me then. I wanted to make sure that was made clear again for anyone who didn’t understand what happened.’’ Jackson was with Gordon from 1989 until 1997.

Jackson also goes to great lengths in the show to clarify that she was not involved in a major showdown last summer, when her mother Katherine was removed from her California home by several of the Jackson children without the rest of the family's knowledge, causing confusion and a missing person's report to be filed. Katherine Jackson is the primary guardian of Michael Jackson’s three minor children and is provided for by the late singer in his mega-million-dollar will and estate. Jackson did not provide for his siblings or his father in his will. At least three of the Jackson siblings questioned the will’s authenticity. La Toya wasn’t one of them.

“All families have their issues and ours is no different,’’ says La Toya. “So I just acknowledged that incident happened last summer and that I didn’t have anything to do with it so we could move on with the story.’’

While the woman who once infamously posed for Playboy with a large snake around her neck says she didn’t consult with her famous siblings before she deciding to allow cameras into her life, she did invite her parents, Katherine and Joseph, along for the ride. Both of her parents appear in the show.

“That was so great for me to have them in the show,” says Jackson. “We’re all getting older everyday and my parents are getting older everyday so I really cherish every moment I get to spend with them. I love the moments where you get to see me with them.”

The debut episode showcases Jackson escorting her mother back to the family’s hometown, Gary, Indiana, via luxury bus (gifted by Michael to his mother shortly before his death) to attend a memorial for her son. Though La Toya makes it clear to the audience that the subject of her late son is a sensitive one, she broaches it with her mother as they ride and indeed Katherine’s eyes begin to fill. Katherine Jackson’s pain makes the scene particularly awkward to watch.

Jeffre Phillips, La Toya’s business partner and long-time friend, says the world now gets to meet the woman that impresses him everyday with her business smarts and talent.

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“I met everyone in her family before her,” says Phillips. “I knew Michael and Jermaine and everyone before I met La Toya and to be honest I thought she was the odd one!! Then I met her and saw how smart and talented she was and we just became instant friends. I hope this show lets everyone see that.”

Jackson told The Daily Beast she would have preferred a life behind the scenes and away from the cameras, and says she asked her father Joseph if she could attend business school as a teenager. “I would see the contracts my brothers got and I knew they weren’t the best,’’ remembers Jackson. “I wanted to go to school so I could learn how to protect them and make sure they got what they deserved. It’s so easy to get ripped off in this business and it happens all the time.” Her father, however, did not agree. “[M]y dad was like ‘No, you sing like everyone else.’ But I’m still a businesswoman running my own company and making deals out there and getting things done in front and behind the camera.’’

Recent stories have suggested that La Toya is the mastermind behind the burgeoning careers of Michael’s three children in show business. She denies these claims, though she admits she helped Prince Michael land his gig as a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight.

“I’ve dealt with the media and lies in tabloids all my life,’’ says Jackson. “But it’s very hard to read lies about my family and about the youngest members of my family. That hurts and it hurts when there isn’t much you can do about it. That’s been very rough these last few weeks.’’

Still, even while the show sheds light on some painful periods, Jackson is riding high over the potential of her new show to open doors for more opportunities in film, television, and the release of another album.

“It’s a really good time for me now and I don’t have the limits that I had for so long,’’ she says. “ I couldn’t date because of my religion and I couldn’t do so many things for so many different reasons. But that’s over now so I can focus on what makes me happy and doing things creatively that are really me.’’