'Lip Sync Battle Live': Hailee Steinfeld, Laverne Cox, Taraji P. Henson & Neil Patrick Harris Tackle the King of Pop

Neil Patrick Harris Performs “Smooth Criminal” on Lip Sync Battle.
Courtesy Photo

Neil Patrick Harris Performs “Smooth Criminal” on Lip Sync Battle.

“When it comes down to it, I’m just looking to have a good time. We’re honoring Michael Jackson and I know that nobody will ever – no matter how good they are and no matter how hard they try – be better than Michael Jackson. So as long as I go out there and have a good time, that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Those were the words of a champion, aka actress/singer Hailee Steinfeld, on Thursday night (Jan. 18) before she took the stage to shake her assets and mouth along to one of the King of Pop’s most iconic tunes as Lip Sync Battle kicked off its season 4 with a special broadcast from Hollywood’s Dolby Theater dubbed Lip Sync Battle Live: A Michael Jackson Celebration. Though the three additional contenders – Empire's Taraji P. Henson, Laverne Cox, and Neil Patrick Harris gave it their all, Steinfeld was crowned the winner. And she did it all while under the influence of a nasty cold.

“I’ve been thanking God every second of the day that this is a lip sync battle and that I didn’t have to sing,” chirped the 21-year-old, who was noticeably losing her voice, on the pre-show red carpet.

But Steinfeld is a trooper. She pulled through in a big way – nailing Jackson’s signature crotch grab and rolling around on stage under puddles of rain -- and ultimately went home the proud owner of the show’s sparkly belt for her instantly iconic take on "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Prior to taking the stage, Cox told Billboard that every part of her body hurt from her extensive rehearsals of “Dirty Diana.” “I’m really trying to give a great show!” she said, of her week long preparation for Thursday’s big show. But lip-syncing a Jackson song isn’t the only musical project that The Orange is the New Black star has dabbled in.

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” she says, with a grin. “I actually recorded a song last summer and I shot a music video for it in December. And I’m probably going to release it soon.” Cox describes the tune as a 90’s throwback and says it features only herself on the track. “No one has asked me to record music. I’ve been writing songs my whole life just for fun. I had an idea for a song and thought it would be cool to record,” she added. “I was hanging out with a friend and I told him and he’s like ‘we should record it.’ I was like ‘why?’ And then we did it and I was like ‘Oh and maybe there should be a video,’” she says, of how the endeavor came about.

But that doesn’t mean that Cox will be releasing her own album anytime soon. “I honestly think it’s going to be just the one song -- because it’s so hard and so much work,” she states. “New respect for musical artists. New respect. It’s a lot of work!” Besides, she was way too busy working a killer leather skirt and working the stage amid plumes of smoke, dancers and aerialists during her dirty "Diana" performance.

Henson, who loves to sing but said she "missed the bus" on exploring that side of her talent was looking forward to her Lip Sync Battle performance and the chance to be “a rock star for the night.” And, shocker, she was, tearing up the stage in tight leather pants and a red leather jacket for a killer cover of MJ's legendary "Beat It.'

Harris was bouncing around the show’s red carpet, attempting to psyche himself up to hold his own alongside the 67 professional dancers that would soon be taking the stage. The A Series of Unfortunate Events star affectionately referred to his appearance on the show as something that “is singularly done for a bucket list.” While he is no stranger to the stage, he explained that he never thought he’d have the patience to make a professional go at music.

“My wheelhouse is much more magic mystery theatrical based. I can’t imagine an album that I would make that a year later when it came out that I would want to then sing those songs for a full year on tour and then on morning chat shows,” he said. Still, Harris is not completely closing the door on the opportunity. “You never know what circumstances will bring. Tony Bennett could call and then you’d have to say yes,” he quipped. 

All that stage time came in handy later in the night, when he slipped into a white suit and matching fedora for a perfectly choreographed, shoulder-snapping run through "Smooth Criminal."

Lip Sync Battle’s hosts, LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen, revealed that the most requested celebrity pairing that they get for the show is for the two of them to lip sync battle each other. While that wasn’t the plan for the evening, the duo was definitely looking forward to cheering on their celebrity friends.

Teigen says she has no plans to ever make music herself but did brag about the fact that her husband, John Legend, has told her that she has “a lovely voice.” Her co-host joked that Legend might be biased before revealing that though acting has taken precedence in his life in recent years, he isn’t completely done with the musical side quite yet.

“Music will always be my first love. It will always be the thing that moves me. Would I love to get out there and make some music for the fans?" said the legendary rapper. "Absolutely! Right now I’m doing other things but in the back of my mind, I do get that nudge and I do get that urge and that itch to put that music out. I would love to give the fans one more, at least something.”

Upon hearing this, Teigen playfully jabbed him in the arm and said, “Do it!”