Monday, May 19, 2014 | 7:08 p.m.
It was the night that the 2014 Billboard Music Awards made TV history with the “return” of Michael Jackson, but as a modern-day version of “Thelma & Louise,” Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert may have just stolen the show. The bigger question though, maybe, is if Robin Thicke, in debuting his song “Get Her Back,” succeeded in wooing back his gorgeous wife, actress Paula Patton, who allegedly left him after the steamy and salacious “Blurred Lines” video and his twerking with Miley Cyrus at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards.
Unlike previous awards, there was nothing too outrageous with Sunday night’s BBMAs at MGM Grand Garden Arena and airing on ABC. Fears about “problems” with Iggy Azalea and Ariana Grande proved unfounded. The nearest hiccup for quick-thinking TV camera operators and censors came when they cut away to prevent a nipple slip as an emotional Shakira clutched her lacy bodice a little too dramatically around her bosom.
However, there were several amusing on-camera TelePrompTer slips:
* Host Ludacris may have proved his mind was on another’s anatomy when he substituted the word “ass” for the word “ask” in the TelePrompTer, but a quick recovery turned it into a very humorous joke.
* Miley Cyrus, on tour in Manchester, England, dropped an F-bomb in her acceptance speech winning for her “Wrecking Ball” video as Top Streaming Song. Her performance of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” alongside The Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne was as trippy as the LSD initials.
* Ke$ha froze at the mic as she was introduced as one of the experts for the new ABC talent competition “Rising Star” premiering June 22, but, with her bountiful cleavage almost spilling from atop her black-and-gray strapless mermaid gown, she was forgiven.
* The Disastrous Flub of the Night Award goes to reality TV starlet and model Kendall Jenner, who will now probably never be given a visa to enter Australia. All she had to do was remember the name of the Down Under boy band 5 Seconds of Summer. It was right there on the prompter, but with a near display of side boob showing, she went into catatonic arrest, freaking, “Guys, I’m the worst reader!” She failed to read their name — nearly calling them One Direction? — and worse tried to cover it up with bad grammar: “I can’t read good.” Later in a tweet, she blamed it on nerves and leaving her contacts at home.
Justin Timberlake was the night’s big winner with seven awards: Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Billboard 200 Artist, Top Radio Songs Artist, Top R&B Artist, Top 200 Billboard Album and Top R&B Album. Robin’s “Blurred Lines” won the most song categories with four wins. Our Las Vegas heroes Imagine Dragons won well-deserved recognition following Justin with five artist awards: Top Group, Top 100 Artist, Top Rock Artist, Top Rock Album and Top Streaming Song (Audio). Pharrell and T.I. each won four awards.
This morning, ABC execs woke up to overnight-ratings news that the awards had won the primetime war with 10.5 million viewers. Its main competition was “The Amazing Race,” also filmed in Las Vegas with MGM illusionist David Copperfield — with 8.16 million viewers. Dave and Connor O’Leary won the $1 million prize, the first time a father-and-son team have won the hit CBS show in its 24 seasons.
There’s no question that the Michael Jackson Experience topped the night, but Carrie and Miranda stole some of that thunder with their duet debut of “Something Bad,” and Robin was definitely teary-eyed with the begging lyrics to Paula in the premiere of “Get Her Back.”
It had taken a team of 104 cast, crew and execs two years and six months to create the one-of-a-kind full-stage experience to showcase Michael. The first two years was the development of new technology and the last six months filming and choreography.
The 16 dancers and five-piece band were onstage as Michael appeared in hologram form to sing “Slave to the Rhythm,” a track he had recorded in 1991 with L.A. Reid and Babyface only recently discovered and released on the album “Xscape,” which may hit No. 1 on Billboard this week and has hit No. 1 worldwide since its release last Tuesday.
L.A. told us backstage: “We tried to do as best as we could with what we thought Michael would have loved, but the truth is you can’t ever really know because he wasn’t here.”
Michael wore brick red trousers, a gold jacket and white T-shirt on a set that was modeled from “Dangerous” artwork. A special stage was built at the back of the arena that was used only for that one performance. Michael opened the near five-minute sequence seated in a throne and then rose to walk down steps to perform various dance routines all the time surrounded by and dancing around dancers who had come onstage from arena aisles.
It was late last year that Michael Jackson estate lawyer John Branca made the final decision to use the “Slave” recording. “We wanted people to experience Michael in a live setting, a live performance in front of a live audience, and nothing speaks to that more than an awards show. It’s the magic of Michael exactly as if he was performing.”
Jamie King, who directed Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” and “One” at Mandalay Bay, was brought in to stage this production. Rich and Tone Talauega, who choreographed Michael’s HIStory Tour in 1997, started work on the Michael dance moves early in January with the dancers.
They said backstage that the project was simply labeled “Secret Mission”: “The dancers rehearsed to the track but had no idea they would be dancing with Michael. It’s classic Michael with our spice on it. The angle of his hand. The tilt of his head. All the dance moves are completely within his world.”
Carrie was named winner of the Milestone Award during the show, but it was the TV debut of her duet “Something Bad” with Miranda that was incredibly good. Even if they hadn’t fired off pyrotechnics, this talented teaming of temptresses set off their own fireworks.
Carrie was hotter than the 100-degree heat out on the red carpet in her leather shorts, and Miranda sizzled in a stunningly short red leather skirt. Hollywood producers should promptly cast them in a remake of 1991’s “Thelma & Louise.” The song is on Miranda’s upcoming album “Platinum” set for release June 3. Singer hubby Blake Shelton gazed approvingly from his front-row perch.
To call Miranda and Carrie the leading ladies of today’s country music would be an understatement. Between the two of them, they’ve amassed 16 No. 1 singles on the Hot Country Songs chart.
A very public plea
Some background now on the Robin-Paula marital state. After dating as teens, they wed in 2005 and have a 4-year-old son, Julian. They separated in February after controversy over his sex-charged and salacious “Blurred Lines” video and the twerking with Miley at the MTV VMAs at Brooklyn Bowl in New York.
Music industry insiders have said it’s no secret that the regular Las Vegas visitor wants to win her back, and Sunday night’s “Get Her Back” was an open plea to do just that. A close-up showed his teary eyes glistening as he sang “I gotta treat her right. I gotta cherish her for life, I gotta get her back.” It was a very public plea: “I should have kissed you longer. I should have held you stronger. All I wanna do is make it right.”
Years ago, I baby-sat Robin for my friend, his father Alan Thicke, a couple of times, so I know the family well. It was no surprise Sunday night when he said openly and candidly during an acceptance speech: “Most importantly, I’d like to thank my wife for her love and support and for putting up with me for all these years.”
We’ll see if it works; we wish him luck! To cap off the three-hour telecast, Jennifer Lopez performed, then was given the Icon Award, the first female recipient of the honor, by Ricky Martin and Iggy.
Before we finish this wrap of the 2014 BBMAs, our thanks to photographers Steve Marcus of the Las Vegas Sun and contributing photographers Tom Donoghue of Donoghue Photography and Erik Kabik of Retna for their galleries.
To end, two of my favorite quotes of the night, from Ludacris and Imagine Dragons. Ludacris, who flew back to L.A. after the show to wrap filming of “The Fast and the Furious,” said: “I’m always checking off a list of things I haven’t done. I’ve performed on the Billboard Awards before. I’ve presented on the Billboard Awards before. I’ve never hosted the Billboard Awards until now. So it was time. Who wouldn’t want to host them? Now I get to cross that off the list!”
Next up for him is more ABC duties as one of the experts alongside Ke$ha on the new Josh Groban-hosted series “Rising Star” premiering on ABC on June 22.
Imagine Dragons revealed that their struggle for success had cost them their life savings and that they were working for pennies in small clubs before it finally paid off: “We got the news about being on the Billboard Awards when we were at our band house. It was a very small rental. We were all living in it — very tight quarters and no air conditioning or television. We were surviving on lots of lima beans and rice,” said leader Dan Reynolds.
“Our manager called us and said we broke Billboard’s Top 100, and we celebrated by burning the house down. It had been pretty brutal up until that point. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for people who believed in our band, in our small band, that started here in Las Vegas from the very beginning.”
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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