Much pre-show ado was made about veteran actor Samuel L. Jackson as the host, and while he had humorous moments, they weren’t very memorable. Bringing Spike Lee to the stage for a spoof of Kanye and Jay-Zs mega-hit “N****s in Paris” was supposed to be funny — and it was when Sam did the Gator Shake from Jungle Fever — but it came across more like the way my father makes fun of rap music. Even Jackson’s participation in the beloved “Real Husbands of Hollywood” skits, which debuted at last year’s awards show and will become an actual TV show featuring Kevin Hart this fall, fell flat.
There was also lots of pre-show buzz about the Carters’ attendance, and although Jay-Z and Beyoncé didn’t perform, their star power didn’t disappoint. As Kanye, who was nominated for seven awards, accepted his first of the night, he wished Jay-Z was there “to say something politically correct for me” and — poof! — Hov appeared from backstage to accept the award with him. Bey also took home two awards, Best Female R&B Artist and Best Video for “Party.”
Perhaps the evening’s most anticipated performance was that by D’Angelo, who performed on TV for the first time in 12 years. I hate that he made us wait so long, but his unparalleled combination of soul, funk, and R&B was well worth the wait, and revved up my anticipation to see his full show this Friday at the ESSENCE Music Festival.
Melanie Fiona delivered an amazing performance on “Wrong Side of a Love Song,” and Usher lived up to his hype on “Climax,” which let the audience know he’s still got it (in case there was any doubt). Frankie Beverly featuring Maze received the lifetime achievement award and were serenaded by Tyrese, Joe and Faith Evans to mark the occasion. Chante Moore properly honored recently departed Donna Summer, and Valerie Simpson managed to still sound amazing while saying goodbye to her late husband and writing partner, Nick Ashford. Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj and Mayback Music Group led by Rick Ross also took a turn on stage, with lengthy portions of MMG’s set muted by censors due to profanity — a trend for every rap performance, much to the annoyance of the at-home audience.
But unquestionably, the highlight of the night was the Whitney Houston tribute. Other awards shows have done her justice — remember Yolanda Adams on the NAACP Awards and Jennifer Hudson at the Grammys? — but the folks at BET outdid themselves.
Mariah Carey kicked off the set with personal memories of her friend, followed by Monica, who sang her heart out on “I Love the Lord” and got many viewers buzzing about the possibility of her doing a gospel album. Brandy, Houston’s mentee, stepped into a zone on “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and a svelte and sexy Chaka Khan performed her original “I’m Every Woman,” which Whitney covered back in 1993. Whitney’s brother Gary Houston also performed, but it was her mother Cissy Houston’s stirring “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that put the stamp on the night. She might have made it through the song without tearing up, but many in the audience and at home did not.
Whereas other awards seemed to rush through Whitney tributes, BET took its time. Yes, the show may have had its missteps, but when it came to paying respect to Houston, they got it totally right.
What did you think of the BET Awards?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk