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Australia Michael Jackson skit sparks racism calls

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian talent show skit based around late pop star Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 has backfired after U.S. guest star Harry Connick Jr called for an apology and viewers accused the program of racism.

The comedy troupe, who called themselves "Jackson Jive," painted their faces black and donned black afro wigs in the skit broadcast on Wednesday evening, prompting talent judge Connick to protest and "speak up as an American."

Five members of the group wore white suits and purple shirts, as well as a single jeweled glove favored for a time by Michael Jackson, who died suddenly in June.

Another dressed as Jackson himself, with white face paint.

"If I knew that was going to be part of the show I definitely wouldn't have done it," Connick said after calling a halt to the skit and awarding the six performing members with a zero rating.

The show's host apologized to Connick on air for the so-called "blackface" routine during a special reunion program watched by 2.3 million people, acknowledging producers had been briefed on the skit, based on a similar one performed 20 years previously.

Viewers criticized the skit on Twitter, with one calling the show "embarrassing and distasteful" and questioning whether "Is it racist for white folks to paint their faces black?"

While the live crowd was largely supportive of the skit, 62 percent of respondents to an online poll by The Courier-Mail newspaper called the segment "tasteless and racist."

(Reporting by Sarah Norgrove; Editing by Rob Taylor and Ron Popeski)

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