Born May 16, 1966 in Gary, Ind., Janet Jackson is the youngest child born to the mega-popular Jackson dynasty. Like her famous siblings, Janet started performing at a very young age in their Las Vegas family act. From the age of 4, she fit in comfortably with her brothers on stage. With a boa around her neck and a switch in her hips, Jackson won raves for her rendition of a young Mae West. She brought that performance with her to Good Times, when she was cast as abused child Penny in 1977. After the cancelation of the popular show, Jackson resurfaced as the innocent girlfriend Charlene on Diff'rent Strokes. In between acting gigs, Jackson pursued a career as a recording artist. Her first solo album was released on A&M Records. The self-titled record was not well received, and Jackson's appearances on TV did nothing to help album sales. During her short-lived time playing a dancing and singing student on the TV show Fame, Jackson made another attempt at recording. Her second album, Dream Street, was another commercial disaster. But soon she discovered that the key to her success was collaboration with mega-hit producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Her third album Control brought her international success, selling 5 million copies worldwide and producing six hit singles including "When I think of You." Since then, Jackson's career has been unstoppable. Between hit albums, Janet has been married and divorced twice. Her second marriage to longtime love Rene Elizonda didn't become public until they announced their divorce after eight years of marriage. Jackson has also had moderate success in films, co-starring as a brooding hairdresser in Poetic Justice and starring opposite Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor 2. With numerous awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and pop cult status, Jackson was the icon of the 1990s. In 2001, MTV honored her with the first MTV Icon Award.
Penny Gordon Woods enters Willona's and the Evans' life by chance. Raised in an abusive household, Penny is eventually abandoned by her mother. Though her early years were truly painful, she has the good fortune of moving in and being adopted by Willona. With a blooming crush on J.J., Penny becomes the unofficial little sister of the Evans household.