BET Awards' call to celebration
Cheers greeted Janet Jackson when she appeared on the stage of the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday at the end of the BET Awards, but her face was etched with pain. For several moments, her mouth quivered, and it looked as if she might not be able to speak.
"My entire family wanted to be here tonight, but it was just too painful, so they elected me to speak for all of us," she finally said.
It's been only four days since her brother Michael Jackson died suddenly, shocking the world. The award ceremony, which had previously been scheduled to honor athletes, musicians and actors, was transformed to a hastily organized celebration of Jackson and his music.
The ceremony was largely joyous and celebratory, but the mood changed when Janet Jackson came on stage.
"To you, Michael is an icon, but to us Michael is family, and he will forever live in all of our hearts. On behalf of my family and myself, thank you for all of your love, and thank you for all of your support. We miss him so much. Thank you so much."
The event, the first large-scale entertainment industry gathering since Jackson's death, took on such a high profile that CNN broadcast live from the red carpet before the show.
When the show finally began, host Jamie Foxx wasted no time in kicking off the Jackson-flavored festivities.
"There's no need to be sad," Foxx shouted, appearing in a red leather jacket similar to the one Jackson wore in his famous "Beat It" video and a single glove. He re-created several of the entertainer's vintage leg kicks and shuffles.
He yelled out, "You should be standing up!" and the overflow audience appeared electrified as the pounding thumps of the song followed by another Jackson classic, "Rock With You," filled the auditorium.
Foxx, who was almost as adept in channeling Jackson as he was in portraying Ray Charles in his Oscar-winning performance in "Ray," tried to moonwalk across the Shrine stage.
Rapper Lil Wayne, who accepted the award for male hip-hop artist, said, "None of us would be in this room without Michael Jackson."
Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James praised the music of Jackson and his family. Eddie Levert, leader of the O'Jays, who accepted the show's lifetime achievement award, told anecdotes of Jackson as a young artist, laced with a profanity. And Ne-Yo, who has often been compared to Jackson, sang a poignant version of Jackson's ballad "The Lady in My Life."
Watching from the audience was Jackson's father, Joe, who sat in the front row next to the Rev. Al Sharpton. The elder Jackson, who was wearing a black suit, sunglasses and a black hat, ignited a frenzy when he appeared near the red carpet just minutes before the live broadcast, as numerous media outlets rushed him for an interview.
"The family and I are doing OK, about as well as we can at this point," he said at one point.
None of the performers on the show mentioned the questions that surround Jackson's death or the controversies that clouded the singer during much of his career.
However, during a commercial break, Foxx referenced what he felt was negative media coverage of Jackson. "I need you to focus," Foxx said to the audience. "The media out there is trying to do a number on my man."
But when Jackson was mentioned during the show, the emphasis was on his legacy and groundbreaking achievements.
Preparations and rehearsals for the show were well underway Thursday when news came of the singer's death. "When we heard . . . we knew immediately that we would have to change the nature of the show," said BET Chairman Debra L. Lee. She thanked the BET staff and employees for their efforts in turning the show around. Several clips from Jackson's videos were featured.
A large portion of the show appeared to go ahead as planned. Beyoncé sang a song medley that included "Ave Maria" while bathed in fog and laser light in a production number that failed to register with the audience.
An "old school" tribute featuring Keith Sweat and Guy excited the audience. And Foxx took several opportunities to plug his album and upcoming tour.
But the show's closing moments were about missing Michael. Foxx was joined by Ne-Yo in singing "I'll Be There" in the final salute.
Related: BET Awards: Best & Worst
Related: BET Awards: Grading the performances
Related: BET Awards arrivals 2009
Photos: Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx, top left, and Beyonce, center. Credit: Jay L. Clenenin / Los Angeles Times