Kem’s hour-long set kicked things off and really set the vibe for the evening. In between delivering smooth and sexy back to back R&B hits Kem offered the men romance advice, flirted with the ladies via video camera, and paid awesome tribute to his mentor Luther Vandross (“Never Too Much”), who passed away this time six years ago.
When hit-maker and ladies’ love Trey Songz took over the stage the “Trey’s Angels” in the crowd groaned and moaned as he effortlessly sang the oh-so-sexy lyrics he’s best known for and lit the stage a romantic yet flirtatious red. (Red light special anyone?) Never one to disappoint his fans Trey performed his most romantic (“Need A Girl”) and sexiest hits (“The Neighbors Know My Name” and “Love Faces”) then concluded took off his shirt in slow motion. Oh, yeah!
If Kem and Trey warmed things up, it was the six brothers behind New Edition (Yes, both Bobby and Johnny were there too!) that really set the stage on fire. They took fans way way back to the day they first fell in love with New Edition. In an official reunion performance they came out strong and united to a standing crowd and overwhelming support. With over 28 years of experience performing together in their past it was no surprise that the band’s comeback future looks so bright. They opened with fan favorite “If It Isn’t Love”, then kicked off the perfect medley of the hits we all know and love. Johnny left the stage so the five original members could perform “Candy Girl” “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Jealous Girl”. The entire superdome sang along in unison as the guys hit all their career high notes effortlessly. Brown also backed off to allow Johnny to return and the group to perform “Cool It Now”, “Count Me Out”, and “Secret”. Just when fans thought they’d seen and sung it all, the guys broke into their post NE groups to perform classics like “Poison”, “My, My, My”, and “Tenderoni”. Most surreal moment of their set? Realizing you were actually watching and hearing Bobby Brown perform “My Perogative” live and it sounded beyond great! Keeping the moment raw with emotion but still classy, Ronnie, Bobbie, Rickie, Ralph, Johnny, and Mike sang ‘Home Again’ and dedicated it to their fans.
As amazing as it was watching New Edition once again perform to their full potential, you know ESSENCE had to save the very best for last. Mary J. hit the stage giving fans what she knew they’d want – the power of her voice. She skipped all the fancy stage effects in favor of five giant close up screens of her face, so you could see and hear the emotion in her songs. Watching and hearing her sing up close and personal was truly a remarkable experience. She gave a stunningly beautiful and raw vocal testimony as always and blew through her personal favorites from her massive catalogue of hits. Her high notes were raw and perfect in performances of “Your Child”, “Not Gon’ Cry” and “No More Drama” in which Mary physically dropped to her knees while performing, after she was clearly still touched by the power of the lyrics. Mary knew her audience was captive and devoted so she told a musical tale of love, loss, and growth for anyone who was listening. You can always preach to us, Mary!