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THE JANET EXPERIENCE

Kris Davis and Jolene Bracey went to see Janet Jackson in concert Monday night expecting to sit in the Salt Palace's upper atmosphere, in seats so far from the stage that, even on the giant video screen suspended from the ceiling, the performer would be a speck.

Unlike thousands of Janet Jackson fans with better seats, the two Ogden High students had not spent the night camped out in a downpour in front of the Salt Palace back in mid-May to buy tickets. Having waited in line only a couple of hours, Kris and Jolene were happy to get seats in the back row.They spent Monday morning converting a sheet into a banner that proclaimed "We love you, Janet," although of course Jackson would never see it.

And then Kris discovered she knew someone who works for Salt Palace security. When the show started, Kris and Jolene were in the very first row.

"We know God did this," explained Jolene Monday night, as they waited reverently for Jackson's Rhythm Nation World Tour to begin.

Clearly, this was not just another concert, not even just another sold-out concert. These weren't just 11,000 people pretty excited to see Neil Diamond. If you are 16 and devoted to Janet Jackson, it's nearly a religious experience.

At Ogden High this past year, Kris and Jolene performed a dance to "The Knowledge," a cut from Jackson's new "Rhythm Nation 1814" album. "Prejudice, No! Ignorance, No! Bigotry, No! Illiteracy, No!," Jackson sings.

"It really united people," said Jolene, tears forming in her eyes. "Whether you're black or white, you're human. She says that. We're colorblind now. Janet Jackson is helping with that. Kids are listening to the words. People are listening more in school because of her. I know I am."

You may find this pretty astounding, if you've listened to "Rhythm Nation." Jackson's message - knowledge is power, music can unite people to think about social problems - is not exactly full of new insights. But Jackson reaches the very listeners she wants to reach - not people with already well-developed social consciences, but kids who never gave the matter much thought before.

And there's no denying that this woman can reach an audience. Even a reluctant reviewer, who dismissed "Rhythm Nation" as just more slick Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis grooves, got caught up in Jackson's energy and her talent.

From the opening moment - when a large structure suddenly rose from the bowels of the Salt Palace and Jackson emerged from a gold box - you knew you were going to see a show.

By the end of her third song, the hyperkinetic "What Have You Done for Me Lately," the audience had worked itself up into such a frenzy that it gave her a three-minute standing ovation. Jackson appeared moved by the spontaneity of the response.

Spontaneity is not something you generally get in a concert like this, which has been programmed so precisely that you suspect Jackson's tears at the end of "Come Back to Me" may have been choreographed, too.

But then choreography, in one form or another, is one reason why you go see a Jackson perform. That's why Utah Jazz forward Thurl Bailey said he was there.

"That's what I want to do," Bailey told a reporter.

"You want to dance?" she asked incredulously.

"Oh yeah."

In fact it was hard to sit still no matter who you were, from the moment Jackson's opening act, singer/writer/producer/keyboardist/drummer/dancer Chuckii Booker took the stage.

For the really big concerts that manage to find their way to Utah, the performance itself, though, is only the icing on the cake. The whole event begins with Waiting.

Ashly Bagshaw, 8, and Amber Bagshaw, 11, of Murray, spent 18 hours camped out in front of the Smith'sTix outlet on 3300 South back on May 11. It rained like crazy that night.

University of Utah football player Sonny Kaufusi and his friends spent a soggy night camped in front of the Smith's downtown to get tickets for themselves and three friends _ who also went the extra mile to be a true fan. They flew in from Honolulu to catch the concert.