As a TV show, “Soul Train” ran out of fuel in 2006 after 25 years on the air in syndication.
But the Soul Train Awards live on — thanks to BET and a new spinoff network called Centric, which used to be BET J. It’s going to target the older African-American demographic, much like TV One.
And for the first time, the awards show (which debuted in 1987 but took a break last year) moves to Atlanta from the Los Angeles area. I’m awaiting the start the show at the Georgia World Congress Center — less than a month after BET held its Hip Hop Awards up the street at the Atlanta Civic Center.
That show ran like a military operation, starting on time and finishing just a few minutes longer than the actual two-hour air time (with delays mostly related to botches by host Mike Epps). BET wasn’t quite as efficient this time around, starting 30 minutes late and ending three hours later.
And only three awards were effectively handed out and only one winner was in attendance: Keri Hilson, from Atlanta. (She won twice, for best new artist and best collaboration.) The best album was given to Beyonce but she wasn’t there. She also won several other awards, which were not shown. Maxwell and Mary Mary took home awards, too, but were absent as well.
This didn’t take away from the stars who were there. The emotional highlight came at the end during a tribute to Chaka Khan. Angie Stone, while singing “Ain’t Nobody,” left the stage and began dueting spontaneously with Khan, who hit the big note with no prep at all.
At the start, a warmup comic killed time for a half hour, creating a Soul Train dance line culled from volunteer audience members and getting a capella snippets of hits from Musiq Soulchild and Brian McKnight. The show began at 8:33 p.m. with a duet by sometime Atlanta resident Toni Braxton and Trey Songz with “Yesterday” (and included a lovely kiss on the lips.)
Tonight, the hosts are actors Taraji Henson (”The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and Terrence Howard (”Iron Man”). They open with a duet of Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited,” appropriate given they were both on “Hustle & Flow.” (And both can sing!)
First winner was an Atlanta lady: Keri Hilson, who won for best new artist, beating out the likes of Drake and Solange. She thanked a bunch of folks, not using a paper cheat sheet, but her Blackberry. Later, she performed her hit “Knock You Down” in a snakeskin black jacket and an all black get up. A shaky high note at least proved she isn’t lip syncing.
Atlanta’s Keith Sweat introduced Charlie Wilson (who broke out as lead singer of the Gap Band) with a song dedicated to the legendary R&B singer. (No reaction shots of his ex Lisa Wu Hartwell.)
“I’m here because of His mercy and His grace,” said Wilson. “I’m 15 years clean and sober and I’m cancer free.” (He recently recovered from early-stage prostate cancer.)
Several artists (Ginuwine, Chico DeBarge, Brian McKnight, Kandi Burruss, K-Ci & JoJo) sang a string of Wilson’s hits including “Early in the Morning,” “Outstanding” and “Yearning For Your Love” before Wilson, in a sharp black suit and sunglasses, hit the stage to croon bits of “There Goes My Baby” and “Burn Rubber on Me.” He sounded as good as ever, singing with a joy of a person who is glad to be alive. (Somehow, the band’s biggest crossover hit “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” was omitted.)
V-103’s Frank Ski did one of the intros and mispronounced Claudia Jordan’s name (he said Johnson) so they had to re-tape it.
At 10 o’clock, 90 minutes after the show started, there is an extended break. No reason is given to the audience and the warmup comic isn’t even working anymore (We joke that he’s been fired for not being terribly funny.) Maybe the Real Housewives of Atlanta (due to present an award at some point) are having diva moments backstage.
At 10:06 p.m., the Motown tribute starts with lookalike (and kinda soundalike) Supremes (with Henson as Diana Ross), followed by various lower-wattage stars singing classics. Johnny Gill gets to tackle one of his own, “My My My.” And Chico DeBarge hit the ceiling notes with “I Like It.” The audience vibed to that one. But they stood up and cheered for Boyz II Men. It’s hard not to sing along with “End of the Road.”]
This led directly into a brief video Michael Jackson tribute. A video showed clips of the Jackson Five on “Soul Train.” Creator Don Cornelius is heard talking about how the Jackson Five’s frequent appearances gave the show credibility.
The warmup comic is back during the next break. And he tries and fails to coax M.C. Hammer to do some dancing.
Henson calls our fine city “Hotlanta.” Is it just me or do only outsiders call the city “Hotlanta”?
We watch a video about LaFace Records, which was founded here in Atlanta. But there appeared to be no connection to anything else. Clearly, this awards show will be post-edited to make everything look smoother.
Ludacris moments later popped in to give Atlanta (not Hotlanta) some love singing with Raheem DeVaughn with “Bulletproof.”
Besides Beyonce, other nominees not here: Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Drake and Kanye West (wise move on his part.)
Cornelius, who founded the show, is no longer part of it since he sold it to MadVision Entertainment in 2008.
The show itself will air on BET and Centric as a simulcast November 29 at 9 p.m.
Presumably, MadVision wants to eventually revive the actual weekly show.
For nostalgia’s sake, watch the Soul Train dance line from 1973