"People see me as the 'the normal one'," says pop diva Janet Jackson on the public perception of her famous family. No argument there. Yet after more than 25 years in showbusiness she's certainly her own woman.
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Janet Damita Jo Jackson was born on May 16, 1966, in Gary, Indiana. She was the youngest of nine children born to Joe and Katherine Jackson and was raised in the Jehovah's Witness faith. "We had nothing that truly brought us together as a family Thanksgiving, Easter dinner, we never had that," she recalls. "We didn't grow up celebrating birthdays or celebrating Christmas, because of the religion."
What they did have was the stage. By age seven Janet was performing alongside her brothers, The Jackson 5, in Las Vegas. She went on to join the US comedy TV series Good Times in 1977 and four years later took a recurring role in the show Diff'rent Strokes.
She signed with A&M Records and released her first album aged 16 while still very much under her father's well-documented control.
Her self-titled debut and its follow-up Dreamstreet failed to ignite the charts, but 1986's Control on which she first broke free from her father and teamed up with Minneapolis-based hip-hop producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis delivered a whopping five top ten singles in the US and three across the Atlantic. The politically charged Rhythm Nation 1814 followed in 1989, and in January 1991 she became the first artist in history to launch seven top-five hits from a single album.
Two years later Janet explored a new challenge, making her feature film debut opposite slain rapper Tupac Shakur in John Singleton's Poetic Justice. And while siblings LaToya and Michael repeatedly found themselves adorning the covers of US tabloids, Janet's famous work ethic kept her on the road and in the studio.
While her career was going from strength to strength, Janet's personal life was in the doldrums, though. Her 1997 album The Velvet Rope chronicled her much-publicised emotional breakdown, and for the first time fans caught a glimpse of her troubled love life.
At the age of 18 Janet had married Eighties singer James DeBarge - a union that was quickly annulled. In 1991 she and sometime collaborator Rene Elizondo Jr hooked up and wed in secret, hoping to keep their love out of the spotlight. "People in this industry don't get a fair chance with some things, and especially marriage," she says. "I wanted to have as normal a marriage as possible, and we both felt the best way to do that was to keep it quiet," she said at the time. The two did keep it quiet, until Rene filed for divorce in 2000.
In 2001 Janet released the wildly popular album All For You and found herself both successful and unattached. "All this is really new for me," she said of being on the singles scene. "I've never dated. In my family, we grew up Jehovah's Witnesses, so you're not supposed to date until you're thinking of marriage. I got married when I was 18, and then I got an annulment, and then Rene came into my life. So here I am and I know nothing about the whole dating thing..."
The beautiful singer did not remain single for long. A year later Janet began seeing the man she refers to as her "soulmate", hip-hop producer Jermaine Dupri. "I always wanted to find love," she said. "Now, that I found love, I'm in a different space now. Jermaine is drama-free."
However, the veteran performer's professional life was certainly not drama-free. Janet hit the headlines worldwide when in February 2004, during the half-time show of the Superbowl final, an infamous "wardrobe malfunction" led to the singer exposing herself in front of an estimated 100 million people.
Ever the professional, for Janet the show went on. The singer marked her 40th birthday year with a new album, 20 Y.O. celebrating her 20 years in the industry. "I'm proud that for 20 years, people have responded to my work," she says. "I'm proud to have stayed in the game and survived."