At BET show, focus shifts from trophies to Michael

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Amber Rose (left) and Kanye West arrive at the 9th Annual BET Awards, in Los Angeles, yesterday.

LOS ANGELES - The BET Awards became the official Michael Jackson TV celebration yesterday, with joyous tributes to the King of Pop from a New Edition-Jackson 5 medley to host Jamie Foxx's tender monologue delivered in that classic red leather zipper jacket and white glove.

Joe Jackson, the singer's father, was on hand to represent the grief-stricken family. "I just wish he could be here to celebrate himself," he said. "Sadly, he's not here, so I'm here to celebrate for him."

Already an affair of major-star wattage, the night's show was thrown under a white-hot spotlight in the wake of Michael Jackson's death Thursday, adding attendees and guests, doubling the number of media requests and even lengthening the red carpet to accommodate all who want to take part.

Foxx kicked off the show with a re-enactment of the choreography from Jackson's iconic "Beat It" video in front of the star-studded crowd, on its feet from the start of the show. Throughout the show, Foxx wore some of Jackson's signature looks, like the wide-collar black leather outfit from "Billie Jean."

"No need to be sad," Foxx said. "We want to celebrate this black man."

Producers of the annual awards show - which recognizes the best in music, acting and sports - revamped the show to meet the moment. While Beyoncé and T.I. were the leading award nominees with five apiece, giving out trophies was an afterthought: Honoring Jackson became the show's main focus.

While some performed their own hits, most made sure to incorporate some of the man who influenced them in their performances. A chant of "Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson" was heard while Keri Hilson performed, and Foxx's "Blame It" incorporated some of the Jacksons' dance hit "Blame It On the Boogie."

New Edition, the 1980s teen sensations who were considered that generation's Jackson 5 with their own version of bubble-gum soul, ran through several of the Jackson 5's greatest hits, from "I Want You Back" to "ABC," mirroring their idols right down to the group's original choreography. Ne-Yo sang one of Jackson's most sensual songs, "Lady in my Life."

And winners acknowledged Jackson when they received their awards.

"This is for you, Michael Jackson," said Beyonce, as she held her trophy for best female R&B artist skyward. "I have to thank Michael for being my future and my hero."

"We all know none of us [would be in this room if not] for Michael Jackson," said Lil Wayne, as he picked up his award for best male hip-hop star.

"My heart and prayers go out to the whole Jackson family," said basketball star LeBron James, who won best male athlete. "What they did for us . . . for the whole world was amazing."

"There was one thing that this man did that I always wanted to do, and I'm gonna do it tonight," he said. "I'm gonna moonwalk. I hope I can make it."

It wasn't perfect, but it captured the memories of Jackson that the A-list audience shared. *