Sheinelle Jones of the “Today” show, a Janet Jackson superfan, got to live her dream when the “Rhythm Nation” artist spent some time on the NBC morning show Friday.
Jackson was chatting quietly with a six-person host lineup on the show when Jones — introduced as “perhaps the best Janet Jackson impersonator of all time” — seized the moment to tell her idol her truest thoughts. Jones stood up and walked over to the international superstar, causing co-host Dylan Dreyer to quip, “Sheinelle, don’t get weird.”
This came right after co-host Craig Melvin joked that Jones could join Jackson on tour, only to have Jackson say sincerely that Jones should join her, noting that she’d been looking for someone to come out and dance with her on a song or two.
“I’m not going to get weird,” Jones told Dreyer, then requested, “Let me stay in my body.” Her true feelings were about to come out.
Jones, 44, told Jackson, 56, that she had grown up in Wichita, Kan., “surrounded by excellence” in her community and family and had gravitated toward TV and entertainment.
“Why you’re so important to me,” she told the singer, “is if you can see it, you can be it. And I think about women and girls who I would see on TV, and back then, four decades ago, you didn’t see people who looked like me.
“So I saw Rudy Huxtable, I wanted to be Rudy. I saw Denise [Huxtable] and I wanted to go to Hillman on ‘A Different World.’ And then I saw Phylicia Rashad. And then I saw you: fierce, vulnerable, funky, beautiful. You could dance, like, all the things. You would be shy and then you would get on that stage and you would just slay — before they even used that word.”
Jackson looked on with a big smile on her face. And Jones kept going.
She said the “What Have You Done for Me Lately” singer let women and girls see that success before “the Beyoncés of the world” emerged on the scene.
“My daughter, who’s 10, can scroll down Instagram and see all of these faces,” Jones said. “I couldn’t scroll. I just saw you. And I was in my basement with a key on my earring, I had cheerleading pictures on one wall. I had news anchors on one wall, from Wichita — and you.”
“And now you’re going on tour!” Melvin quipped.
Jackson told the group she never gets tired of hearing things like what Jones had just expressed.
“It’s part of why you do what you do, hoping you could touch someone in a positive way, make a difference, even if it’s just one person’s life — you’ve accomplished, you’ve succeeded,” Jackson said. “That makes me feel so good to hear you say that.”
In a later segment, after Jackson was gone, Jones told Melvin and Dreyer that the exchange was not set up in advance.
“I wasn’t gonna say anything, and then I thought, ‘You know what, I don’t want to regret not saying something or letting her know what she did for a lot of girls who look like me,’” Jones said.
Melvin, always quick with a joke, said, “What folks at home did not see was security tackling you as she left Studio 1A.”