The BET Awards became the official Michael Jackson TV celebration on Sunday, with joyous tributes to the King of Pop from a New Edition medley of Jackson 5 songs 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 at the Shrine Auditorium 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, adding an extra half-hour to the telecast and even lengthening the red carpet to accommodate all who wanted to take part.
While Jackson's incredible influenced stretched across genres, races, and cultures, he had a very unique place in the world of black entertainment. His influence is arguably most visible in urban music, seen in stars like Usher who mimic his dance moves, to Ne-Yo, whose music is marked by its Jackson-isms. But that influence went beyond music: Jackson was black America's biggest star, who broke racial barriers that allowed for so many other superstars to follow.
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 night, Foxx wore some of Jackson's signature looks, like the wide-collar black leather outfit from "Billie Jean."
"No need to be sad. We want to celebrate this black man," said Foxx.
Producers of the annual awards show — which recognizes the best in music, acting and sports — revamped the show to meet the moment. While Beyonce and T.I. were the leading award nominees with five apiece, giving out trophies was an afterthought: Honoring Jackson was 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."
"He's the man who made it possible for me to be on the stage; I love you and I miss you," he said later.
And winners acknowledged Jackson when they received their awards.
"We all know none of us in this in this room wouldn't be here 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."
The Shrine stage was where Jackson's hair and scalp were burned during the filming of a Pepsi commercial in 1984 and the location for several of his Grammy and American Music Award performances.