Atlanta singer feels ‘blessed’ to be in Michael Jackson ‘Immortal’ tour


“Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil”

8 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. $53-$153. The Arena at Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 1-888-929-7849,


Nearly five years after Michael Jackson’s death, some of his unreleased music will be unearthed.

A new album of previously unreleased Jackson songs, titled “XSCAPE,” will arrive May 13.

The Estate of Michael Jackson granted Epic Records unlimited access to the Jackson Archives, so label boss L.A. Reid pounced on the opportunity to bring more Jackson music to the public.

The archived songs have been remixed by contemporary producers such as Timbaland, Stargate and Rodney Jerkins, who co-wrote the title track with Jackson.

“XSCAPE,” which was produced by Reid, will feature eight songs on a standard edition. A deluxe edition will include some of the songs in their original incarnation. Both versions are available for pre-order on iTunes.

Jackson, who died in June 2009, released his last studio album, “Invincible,” in 2001.

— Melissa Ruggieri

Less than a year ago, J Marie spent her days doing front office work for a chiropractor’s office in Clayton County and her nights performing with the Atlanta Allstars, the local group of musicians known for their corporate and wedding gigs.

But since December, the 32-year-old singer has toured the world as the featured backup vocalist in the band behind “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil.”

The grandiose production filled with dancers, acrobats and more than two dozen Jackson songs is now on its second tour through the U.S., having established itself as the ninth highest-grossing tour in history after its 2011-12 run (which included three dates at Philips Arena). It plays the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Saturday and Sunday.

Marie (born Jaymee Marie Rodriguez in Puerto Rico) had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show prior to joining one of the company’s highest-profile productions. And she missed the “Immortal” dates at Philips Arena because she was touring with the Atlanta Allstars.

It’s an irony she laughs about now. Sort of like the Atlanta Braves blowing her off in 2002 when she auditioned to sing the national anthem before a game (the Tampa Bay Rays scooped her up instead).

“It’s all good,” she says with an audible smile as she chats from a tour stop in Toledo, Ohio.

Indeed, the Jonesboro High School graduate whose family still lives in Clayton County — Marie has lived in Georgia since she was 5 — feels like everything clicked at the appropriate time to lead her onto a massive stage to sing background on all of Jackson’s songs, as well as duet with his voice on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Marie, who gives props to her old boss, Dr. Michael Hartpence the chiropractor, for encouraging her career and “allowing me to rock pink hair in the workplace,” learned of the opening on the “Immortal” tour the same day that plans fell through for her to join Kelly Clarkson’s tour.

With less than a day to submit an audition clip, she enlisted her brother to film her with her iPhone singing a cappella versions of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and the Jessie J song “Domino.”

Three weeks later, she received a call from "Immortal" musical designer Kevin Antunes and in less than an hour, after getting approved by the Cirque front office, was enlisted for the tour. A couple of weeks following, she and fellow backup singer Jason Woods — whose parents live in Atlanta — sang together for the first time. ("Immortal" has yet another Atlanta tie through longtime Jackson choreographer Travis Payne, who was instrumental in choreographing this show.)

While Marie feels “blessed” to sing so many selections from Jackson’s vast catalog — “People will never really comprehend this man’s range and the emotion behind his words and music. He has a song for every situation in life,” she says — she does have a favorite segment of “Immortal.”

During “Beat It,” Marie loves to watch the “crazy fight-type scene” among the dancers, but also gets a kick out of their interaction with the band members — much of which the audience can’t see.

But with so much razzle-dazzle occurring during the show, there is no shortage of eye (and ear) candy for the crowd.

Marie is proud to be associated with the Jackson legacy and believes that even those who caught “Immortal” on its last run through town will find plenty to experience a second time.

“It really captures the spirit of Michael. We’re celebrating one of the greatest entertainers in the world,” she says. “There will never be another him.”