Luxe Life Blog
Photos: Rihanna, Britney pillow fight, Cee-Lo’s flying piano at BMAs
It was a night of TV firsts and a mountain of memorable moments, from a mid-air spinning piano created by illusionist David Copperfield at his Las Vegas headquarters with Cee-Lo Green at the controls as a reincarnated Liberace to an S&M decked out pillow fight between Britney Spears and Rihanna.
Just when you couldn’t imagine anything else being conjured, Snoop Dogg managed an incredibly accurate, over-the-top imitation of me in the backstage pressroom and even offered me a record deal. (However small it might turn out to be!)
It was the first time in five years that the Billboard Music Awards were restaged as a TV special and returned to Las Vegas. Show director Lou J. Horvitz , who goes back with me to Star Search days in 1983, was tight-lipped about the budget. I’m guessing well more than $4 million, and he would only say it was “huge for TV.” He used 18 cameras for the 3-hour telecast and a crew of 300. Lou said it took nearly 10 days to load the equipment for the one-off show with 4 days of rehearsals.
It paid off with big ratings: More than 9.4 million viewers in the key 18 to 49 demographic tuned in for the spectacular ABC telecast from MGM Grand Garden Arena in a star-studded night of surprises that wound up in a ratings battle with the finale of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice won by country star John Rich over Marlee Matlin. ABC won the night in the ratings with an average of 7.4 million viewers.
In addition to surprise appearances by Britney and Bono with his U2 mates, there were familiar local faces onstage, too: the Las Vegas Tenors were in the choir backing Neil Diamond, along with Pussycat Dolls Las Vegas veterans dancing for many of the performances.
There was a string of duets, including the oh-so-elegant Mary J. Blige with the much-bleeped-out Lil Wayne, plus the touching tributes to Beyonce, before a jaw-droppingly phenomenal performance of “Run the World (Girls),” and Neil Diamond, who closed Don Mischer’s platinum-perfect production with “Sweet Caroline” and “America.” First lady Michelle Obama and Barbra Streisand were part of the tribute to Beyonce, who teared up during her speech in thanks her parents, Destiny’s Child and husband Jay-Z.
Thanks to ABC photographers Kevin Mazur of WireImage and Ethan Miller of Getty Images for their photo gallery of the show highlights, Tom Donoghue for his photo gallery from the red carpet and backstage and to Ash Christian, Richard Corey and Christopher Rauschnot @24kMedia on Twitter for their YouTube videos.
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, wearing a faux Elvis Presley gold tux jacket, dominated the show with six awards and tied with Eminem, who didn’t attend and whose awards weren’t presented during the telecast. Justin, the youngest nominee who created a stir when he kissed his date, actress-singer girlfriend Selena Gomez, won Top New Artist, Top Social Artist, Top Streaming Artist, Top Digital Artist, Top Pop Album and Top Streaming Song at his first BMAs.
Backstage, he said that he’s tired from the rigors of a just-completed world tour and now plans to take a month off before starting work on his new album. Justin agreed that it was a little difficult transitioning from unknown kid to superstar.
“It is a little difficult at first because I was living a really normal life. I’m still normal, but now I have to deal with the fans and always have to have a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s hard. It’s fun, I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I love what I do. If you surround yourself with good people and make sure that you keep God first, you do keep your feet firmly grounded.”
He said the best moment from all the fame and awards comes from looking into his mother’s eyes and seeing how proud she is of him.
Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Taio Cruz won three awards, as did Lady Gaga and Usher, who weren’t in attendance. Go to Billboard.com for the list of 46 winners determined by chart performance and social streaming activity from Feb. 28, 2010, to March 1, 2011. The Hangover star Ken Jeong served as host, and performers and presenters included Matthew Morrison, Pat Monahan, Ke$ha, Far East Movement, Lady Antebellum, Nicki Minaj, hometown hero Ne-Yo, Keith Urban, Pitbull, Tim Allen and new band discovery Gentlemen Hall from Boston.
Gentlemen Hall won the Billboard and Chevy Battle of the Bands last week, which led to their appearance on the awards -- but after having to sleep in their car at Red Rock due to lack of funds. They’re flying home to Boston after driving here in the contest’s Chevy Cruze, but for now, they’re still in economy!
The evening’s highlights
Now to those highlights: First, the Cee-Lo Green flying piano that MGM headliner illusionist David Copperfield magically created for the updated Elton John and Liberace crystal-sparkling-styled piano medley.
“It was definitely as dangerous as it looked. Not only was it a dangerous David Copperfield magic illusion, but Cee-Lo didn’t get vertigo and most importantly he didn’t fall out of the sky,” director Lou told me.
“He was fantastic. He raised it and turned it several times. It was all up to him. He controlled it while completely buckled in for the full 360 turn. He really had it in his mind that he wanted to do this particular stunt. The piano went up about 30 feet high, and that belt around him could have snapped. It was all the more exciting because I was able to run a HD cable through a tube, mount a camera and show it live as he flew and turned. It was truly incredible, and I think everybody’s heart stopped while marveling at it -- I know mine did!”
I asked rapper Snoop Dogg about his prominent and protruding pigtails in the media room backstage, and he instantly delivered a totally accurate impression of my old Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous announcing voice. Everybody -- including me -- was in hysterics. Warning: There’s profanity in this video.
Snoop, who is currently working on a new “highly medicated movie,” shared unprompted thoughts on Britney: “I like her, I’m proud of Britney. See, nobody likes to give respect and appreciation to women when they go down and then turn their lives around. She should be commended for getting back, feeling good, looking good and sounding good. She is always going to be a teen pop star. There are a lot of girls who look up to her, so she gets her life back up, she should be commended for that to show those little girls that you can mess up and get your life back.”
He then instructed one of his entourage to get my phone and email contact info, saying he’d be in contact to record my voice on his next record. Do fame and fortune finally await?
Taylor said her upcoming tour will be very theatrical, with lots of pyrotechnics for the storytelling theme. Ever the songwriter, Taylor said she’d love to co-write with Bruno Mars: “I’ve always liked his way of writing.” Gentleman Hall admitted that they’d rehearsed for their big break by rigging the speakers of the Chevy Cruze they drove out from Boston in as a PA system for their guitars and synthesizers.
Comedy host Ken said he’d practiced music every day for a month for his recurring musical challenges with everybody from Keith Urban on dueling banjos to Travis Barker’s drum vs. triangle fight. “I am exhausted. I just can’t believe it happened. I haven’t played classical piano since I was a kid, so I was practicing every day for about a month. I was really nervous before this first opening number. It was just such a huge honor, so nothing less than the best from me was not going to happen. We worked on it for about a month to see what would work.”
I had to ask him to sum up with news of a possible Hangover 3. “I would absolutely do it if it happens. Everything I’ve done in the last three years, all my success, is directly due to The Hangover, and those guys have become my family, too.”
Please read my colleague Senior Editor John Katsilometes’ brilliant live backstage blog because you’ll learn about, among other things, Bono running in the desert while in town. U2, who are appearing on the upcoming American Idol finale, won for Top Touring Artist; their PopMart tour, which included a stop at Sam Boyd Stadium, was seen by more than 7 million fans.
Bono said: “I still can’t quite get my head around that figure of 7 million -- more people than any other tour ever. We don’t really care about whether or not we’re the biggest; we just always strive to be the best. We’re very hard on ourselves and very hard on the work that we do. It’s a real band -- we’re used to working in a very cooperative way, so nothing gets overlooked, and that’s very fun.”
If show director Lou has his way, Las Vegas will be home for the BMAs now for many years to come. “I hope it returns next year. It’s right this is in Vegas. It was a very entertaining show. I’m glad to see it back here. I think that’s what everyone wants. I’m happy when we shoot in Vegas because the crowd is always like nowhere else. Here we have a mix of industry, fans and appreciative people for the talent we’ve celebrated tonight.
“We couldn’t do this in any other city. Vegas gives it a completely different kind of electricity -- it’s an incredible vibe here.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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