Photo flashback: Revisit Janet Jackson's early TV career
TV fans to Janet Jackson: "Miss you much."
Image: The Everett Collection
Janet Jackson just joined the latest class of music icons set to become inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As a singer, she's been a smash success. Her 1986 album Control was certified platinum five times over, and beyond that, her music has been celebrated and nominated for just about every award under the sun, including an Oscar.
As a songwriter and performer, Jackson has always been innovative. The dazzling spectacle of her pop music career, though, tends to overshadow all the work the singer did as a young actress before her breakout success in 1982 with her debut album. At the end of that year, Jackson stepped out on Soul Train to perform her new songs, but before that, we saw the icon do a little song and dance routine on Diff'rent Strokes as Charlene DuPrey. In the scene below, Willis is all of us, geeking out at one of the earliest private Janet Jackson concerts.
On Diff'rent Strokes, Jackson played Willis' first love and eventual girlfriend, a character who shows up between season 3 and 6. Although their breakup ended Jackson's run on the show, it served the series a dramatic dish of real life lessons, something Diff'rent Strokes was critically acclaimed for, a legacy Jackson remains a huge part of.
Of course, we had seen plenty of Janet Jackson before Diff'rent Strokes came on air in 1980. The actress broke out from under the shadow of The Jackson 5 as the family's most criminally overlooked sibling when she joined the cast of Good Times in 1977. On that show, she played Penny Woods (aka Millicent), an orphan taken in by J.J. and adopted by the Evans' neighbor Willona Woods. Again, viewers watched Jackson become a vehicle for drama on another hit sitcom. In the Seventies, she also appeared on the short-lived sitcom A New Kind of Family. Establishing herself as a child actress, by the time the 1980s came, Janet Jackson the performer was definitely ready for the spotlight.
In the 1980s, Jackson appeared on The Love Boat twice and briefly joined the cast of Fame. And while she continued acting in movies throughout the 1990s, like Poetic Justice and The Nutty Professor II, we wouldn't see the actress again on a TV show until 2004, when she appeared as herself on Will & Grace. That's why today, we want to take a moment to look back on the very beginning of Janet Jackson, iconic entertainer and now soon-to-be Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.