NEW YORK (AP) — In the middle of the night, as most of New York slept, something big and bright lit up the Manhattan skyline for just seconds — a tightly kept secret to all but a handful of people.
It was a tiny test for the huge public surprise four days later: the flipping of a switch at the Empire State Building to turn on its dancing new LED lights. They burst from the skyscraper while synchronized with R&B star Alicia Keys singing "Empire State of Mind" on nationwide radio.
The LED system has "16.7 million color possibilities, in digital combinations of ripples, sparkles, sweeps and strobes," says Phil O'Donnell, of Burlington, Mass.-based Philips Color Kinetics that's responsible for the system and worked with a resident lighting designer. "It's the sum of all possibilities — a huge palette."
The old lights came in only 10 colors.
From Manhattan and the Bronx to Staten Island and even New Jersey, "there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets looking up, filming and videoing, clustered on street corners," when the new lights came on, said Anthony Malkin, whose family controls the iconic Art Deco building.
In an interview with The Associated Press at his office, he glowed with pleasure describing Monday night's inaugural light show.
Keys also sang "Girl On Fire" from her new CD.
After all, the 102-story skyscraper "has always been a symbol of what's possible in New York, and all the dreams that can come true in this city that never sleeps," Keys, a New York native, said before her performance, which was ready on tracks while she watched from a Manhattan studio.
Malkin and his technical team wanted to test the new lighting system with as few people noticing as possible and chose early Thanksgiving morning.
Good luck, in the middle of Manhattan, with people walking around even at 2:30 a.m.
That seemed the best moment, after most bars close and before dawn.