The big moment at the 40th anniversary of the American Music Awards wasn’t when Justin Bieber won his third award of the night, making him the top winner, or when David Guetta won the inaugural Favorite Artist Electronic Dance Music Award and gleefully accepted via video from Brazil, where he is on tour.
While it wasn’t an elaborate homage, it was, appropriately, focused on music. Wonder spoke briefly of meeting Clark as a 13-year-old musician, praised his “kindness, his love for music and love for people” and, as photos of Clark scrolled behind him, broke into “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” “My Cherie Amour (Clark’s wife, Kari, was in the audience and watched as photos of the couple were displayed) and “Sir Duke.”
It wasn’t maudlin by any means, but still induced some misty eyes.
As for the rest of the show, here are some high and lowlights.
Happiest winner: Leesburg’s Luke Bryan nabbed his first-ever AMA for Favorite Country Music Male Artist (beating Eric Church and fellow Georgian Jason Aldean) and you would have thought he won the Powerball jackpot given his reaction. He high-fived and hugged the Lady Antebellum guys (the band presented the award), thanked his wife for letting him be “a big kid” while on the road and profusely thanked his fans, noting he’s always been “really, really lucky with fan-voted awards.”
Sourpuss winner: Nicki Minaj turned up her Fran Drescher-like honk both times she stumbled her way to the stage (seriously, if you can’t walk in your clothes, get a new look) and seemed irritated that she had to get out of her seat to traipse up there. She, did, however, thank her Atlanta-based hairdresser during her acceptance speech for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album.
Sweetest acceptance speech: Justin Bieber, who, on his third trip to the winner’s circle to accept his Artist of the Year honors, not only brought his mom, Pattie Mallette, with him, but seemed genuinely at a loss for words before coming up with something heartfelt: “It’s hard growing up with everything going on, everyone watching me. [But] as long as you guys keep believing in me, I will always make you proud.”
Pink, “Try”: Streaked with paint and demonstrating exceptional athletic ability, Pink not only sang the wrenching ballad from deep in her gut (no Auto-Tune here, kids), but also shattered glass, sidestepped fire and flung around a guy who looked as if he just burst out of his Hulk clothes. So looking forward to her Philips Arena date in March.
Kelly Clarkson, medley: Starting with an amusing takeoff of the “American Idol” set, the show’s inaugural winner proved, once and for all, that she’s her own superstar now. Belting a medley of “Miss Independent,” “Since U Been Gone” and “Stronger,” Clarkson ended with “Catch My Breath” from her new hits collection. Yep, you no longer need the “Idol” association when you’ve got your own set of greatest hits.
Taylor Swift, “I Knew You Were Trouble”: It was difficult to tell how much help Swift had on her lead vocals – backing tracks weren’t obvious – but she looked and sounded terrific. A stealth pop song combined with a slick onstage costume change and a set of staircases and chandeliers worthy of a “Phantom of the Opera” staging provided the song with a grand backdrop.
No Doubt, “Looking Hot”: I want to look like Gwen Stefani when I grow up. I guess I should have started by putting down the packet of cheese I was eating while watching her perform.
Pitbull, “Don’t Stop the Party”: The guy always looks snazzy and no matter where he performs, his Latin rap electrifies a room. If only the people in the crowd waving those lighted sticks had a fraction of his rhythm.
Swizz Beatz, Ludacris and Chris Brown, “Everyday Birthday”: A bunch of yelling, jumping, lip-syncing and a shirtless Chris Brown. Is there something to enjoy here? At least Luda was classy enough to keep his clothes on.
Christina Aguilera, “Army of Me”: Nope, not gonna pick on Aguilera’s hideous outfit – though as colleague Rodney Ho commented, she still thinks its 12 years and five dress sizes ago. That’s hard to disagree with, but I’ll never chastise a girl for having curves. However, I will call out a singer with Aguilera’s pipes for using Auto-Tune and otherwise sounding like a raggedy mess during her performance.
Kesha, “Die Young”: Kesha is always an amusing train wreck, but what was that Tarzan-Cleopatra look she had going on? Was I the only one reminded of Brittany’s performance of “Walk the Dinosaur” on last season’s “Glee” finale?
Carrie Underwood, “Two Black Cadillacs”: I adore Underwood. She’s beautiful and humble and has a knack for choosing great songs that fit her powerhouse voice. But between Sunday’s performance and her screechy presentation at the CMAs earlier this month, she’s developed a troubling pitch issue on these award shows.
Psy with MC Hammer, “Gangnam Style”: I am so over the Korean wunderkind and his aughts version of the “Macarena.” And I so wanted to hate his performance, even though, having seen him perform the song in a live YouTube clip, know how ridiculously fun it can be. But then those AMA producers had to throw MC Hammer and a “2 Legit to Quit” mashup into the mix and suddenly I went from snarling to swooning. Yep, you got me, Psy. I think Dick Clark was watching over this one.
What were some of your best and worst moments from the show? Also, here is a complete list of winners.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene