Michael Jackson's three young children, after a lifetime of fierce protection from the prying eyes of the world, came out into the open Tuesday for the most public and heart-wrenching debut imaginable.
Before an audience of thousands at the Staples Center and millions more around the globe, 12-year-old Michael Joseph Jr., known as Prince Michael; 11-year-old Paris-Michael; and 7-year-old Prince Michael II, known as Blanket, sat in the front row, taking in their father's memorial service at Los Angeles' Staples Center.
Gone were the veils, the party masks and the guarded gates and walls that kept the Jackson children hidden from view for more than a decade.
Those were replaced with images of their young faces up on stage as the ceremony came to a close, comforting one another and fidgeting as kids will: Prince chewed gum and toted the memorial service program; Paris turned a small patent-leather purse over in her hands; and Blanket held his program and clutched a Michael Jackson doll.
And in a moment of almost shocking openness, Paris went to the podium to address the crowd, fighting back sobs in the ceremony's defining moment.
"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," she said, her tiny voice cracking. "And I just wanted to say I love him — so much."
Photos of the children's faces, which eluded the paparazzi for years, had leaked out recently, and were widely circulated in the days after Jackson's death June 25. But the live images of the children — Paris in a black dress with white trim and the two boys wearing the same dark suit and yellow tie as the rest of the men in the Jackson family — represented their first true coming-out for the youngest generation of Jacksons.