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American Music Awards 2010: A family-friendly show is free of controversy

November 21, 2010 | 10:35 pm


Last year Adam Lambert's kiss at the American Music Awards sent the Internet tongues wagging, but this year it was Usher and his protg, Justin Bieber, who gathered the most attention at the annual music fete, held at downtown L.A.'s Nokia Theatre and broadcast on ABC — albeit with less controversy.

The pair took home six trophies at the show, which celebrates the United States' most popular musical artists. Bieber won four trophies, including artist of the year, while Usher, who signed the teen in 2008, received two, including favorite male R&B performance. Bieber is the youngest artist to ever win artist of the year.

But the American Music Awards are usually short on drama and long on performance, and this year was no exception. The winners are determined by a combination of fan voting, radio play, record sales and online video play, so as a result it's a popularity contest, not a critical judgment.

As such, Sunday's show attempted to hit many demographics and generations. Introducing Bieber, young singing sensation Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, said, “I'm really lucky. He's like my big brother.” For his part, Bieber thanked Usher, calling him “not only my mentor but my best friend and my big brother.” [For the record: A previous version of this post misidentified Willow Smith as the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.]

Performances by an elder statesman of classic rock, Carlos Santana, was a look back, and a boy-band convergence featuring the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block rounded out the evening in an adult-contemporary mode.

Three of today's most controversial pop artists — Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Eminem — didn't attend.

In fact, after last year's Lambert stunt, the AMAs were family friendly in 2010. Katy Perry, whose award-show antics once included descending to the stage in a suggestive banana, floated down from above a children's choir looking more like the Virgin Mary. Even Miley Cyrus, who is a couple of days away from her 18th birthday and appears with midriff bared on the cover of her recent album “Can't Be Tamed,” went the big-ballad route rather than with the more sexually suggestive image she's been selling of late.

Sunday's Nokia performances proved to be more promotional tools than part of an honors ceremony. The show was chock-full of acts — a startling 18 this year — with a vast majority, including Bieber, Ke$ha, Ne-Yo, Kid Rock, Pink, the Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna — using their stage time to plug new albums. In one of the only unscripted moments in the telecast, in fact, Nicki Minaj interrupted an award to promote her debut album.

Rihanna opened the ceremony with a medley of hits from her new disc, “Loud,” including a sequel to the smash Emimen collaboration, “Love the Way You Lie.” Her fire-engine red hair and island rhythms suggested a return to her dancehall roots.

The lineup skimped on guitar heroes and rap veterans like Carlos Santana, Bon Jovi and Diddy, who held down their respective genres amid all the glittery youthful pop. Taylor Swift, who secured a third consecutive win as favorite female country artist, was typically gracious in winning.

“I only want to thank the fans,” she said, smiling. “You guys get me and understand me.”

But the 16-year-old Bieber was the man of the evening. He was named both the breakthrough artist and artist of the year, much to the delight of his fans at the Nokia, who shouted his name incessantly from the fan section of the theater. 

Despite having one of the biggest-selling albums of the year, Eminem garnered only two wins, a true testament that heavy hitters are no match for nail-biting girls in front of their computers

Tweeting about Bieber. After besting both the rapper and his mentor, Usher, in the artist of the year category, he too seemed to be in disbelief of his meteoric rise.

“I've been singing Eminem since I was like, 3,” Bieber said as he clutched a statue.

The joint performance of the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, with the two man-boy bands being every bit as nostalgic of a bygone era as they performed a mash-up of their '90s hits, was a tease for their recently announced summer 2011 concert tour.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy and Randall Roberts


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Photo: Justin Bieber performs at the American Music Awards. (Reuters)