BET, Puttin' On the Glitz
Monday, January 14, 2008
Favorite moments from the inaugural BET Honors on Saturday night at the Warner Theatre:
The glitch that made Stevie Wonder blow out the walls with "As" not once but twice. Alicia Keys saying she was "speechless," then talking so long that the producers had to give her the sign to wrap it up, making her giggle. Gladys Knight looking so fine and tearing up "Keep On Keeping On." And best of all, Michael Jackson not making a promised appearance.
The Washington-based network handed out awards across the spectrum of black achievement in the two-hour event -- it's scheduled for broadcast Feb. 22 -- and lent this city a breath of black-tie glamour in the doldrums of midwinter. Tyra, right there on the red carpet! Alicia! Vivica A. Fox! Blair Underwood! Wyclef Jean!
There was also a protest outside, which, this being D.C., seemed a homey touch.
An invitation-only crowd packed the Warner for the show, then sashayed over to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center for a party that stretched until after midnight. The mayor was there, of course, and at least four Superior Court judges, uberlawyer Billy Martin, doctor-to-half-of-D.C. David Patterson and, for comic relief, a guy that looked like that dude Sanjaya from "American Idol." (Maybe it was him -- skinny as a rail, big head, big hair, looking kind of like a Q-Tip on legs -- anybody know?)
It was an evening that favored achievement with honor over gaudy success, with awards handed out in fields from business to education to entertainment, with emphasis on both style and substance.
"None of the honorees has been locked up and made it here just in time," emcee Cedric the Entertainer said in his opening riff. Debra Lee, BET's chairman and chief executive, pointed out that each recipient has also "given back to the community in a significant way."
Your honorees: Keys (entertainment); Banks (media); Cornel West (education); Rep. Maxine Waters of California (public service); Richard D. Parsons, former chief executive of Time Warner (corporate citizen); and Janice Bryant Howroyd, who started her Act 1 employment services corporation out of a storefront and now has 90 offices across the nation and $500 million in 2007 revenue (entrepreneur).
Also in a shocker, we report from up close on the red carpet that Tyra is a total babe. Wherever that vacation pudge was, it's gone now, honey. (We also breathlessly report that she was nearly spilling out of her strapless gown! Shutters snapping! An assistant tightened up her top just in time, a development that cut Sunday-morning sales of the New York tabloids by a third.)
She was honored onstage for being a multimedia threat -- model, talk-show hostess, reality-show host and producer -- but also for showing the lily-white fashion world that it was "okay to have a little junk in the trunk."
Well, let's be honest about it.
While we're having fun, we should point out that "The Boondocks" creator Aaron McGruder was not honored.
McGruder, over the years, had his pint-size comic-strip characters ridicule BET for its programming content, most notably for its penchant for profit-pushing thuggish rap videos. We didn't spot him behind the police barricades across 14th Street in the crowd of a couple of hundred protesters. A group called Enough Is Enough, headed by the Rev. Delman L. Coates, led the charge, saying the show was an expensive fig leaf to mask the corporation's sins of exploitation.
Signs in the crowd: "I Am Not a Pimp." And "I Am Not a Gangster."
Back to the show: Each honoree got an introduction, then a video bio and then a musical tribute. Wyclef Jean pitched in a foot-stomping take on "She's a Bad Mama Jama." Brian McKnight crooned "One." Wonder came out and ripped up "As," dedicated to Keys. It had the horn section dancing, the ushers keeping time in the aisles and the crowd rocking. As soon as he finished and everyone sat down, there was buzzing onstage, and a disembodied voice said, "Okay, Stevie, from the top."
Technical problems? Somebody forgot to turn the camera on? Who knows?
But he did the whole bit over again, which just delighted everybody.
West was in full effect, too, holding forth to television cameras in the post-show interview rooms just off the red carpet, just to the right of the bar in the Bluepoint, the restaurant used as a staging area for media. He was leaning forward, smiling, gesturing in a set of television interviews.
We caught up with him by the bar.
"The love for family, the teachings of the church -- it connects the fun to the struggle," he was saying. "You've got to have the fun, you know? But you've got to connect that to the struggle."
Jill Scott was a sweetie as stars filtered back on the red carpet after the show.
"Miss Scott, can I please have a pretty picture?" one female reporter called out.
Scott stopped, rolled her eyes good-naturedly at the "pretty" part, and said, turning, "If you want it, here it is." She stopped and talked with people for five or 10 minutes, not putting on airs or anything.
Fox blew by with a wave, and Kerry Washington begged off pictures and kept walking, her agent saying she had to be on a set in New York "in a little less than five hours." We looked at our watch and noted that would be a 3 a.m. call. We decided we like Jill Scott more.
Over at the afterglow party, inside this gauzy purple veil-like curtain, there was a buffet and beautiful people, some more beautiful than others. In the latter category, we noticed a line of women going up to someone and hugging him close while their significant others dutifully took a happy snap. One, two, three women . . . . We elbowed our way in to see the attraction. It was Blair Underwood! (All the ladies say, "Oh, my!")
We made our way up to the man.
"Mr. Underwood, we were just wondering how many women come up to you at things like this to have their picture taken? Can it be measured without advanced calculus?"
He laughed and said: "I never count, but I never mind."
What smooth PR!
Also in the good-sport category was Cedric the Entertainer (the pride of Southeast Missouri State!), standing at the edge of the dance floor in his hat and triple-black outfit. We stopped to ask him about a miscue at the start of the show that forced him to repeat and slightly alter his monologue.
"There was just some little technical glitch, and they wanted to hit the message of why we're all here a little quicker," he said. "So we talked for a minute and did it again."
We also bumped into Katie Rost, the Washington-based model who's just come out with her own line of skin-care products ("Body by Katie Rost," natch) at her farm in Lincoln, out past Leesburg. She was there with her mom, Rynthia. Katie looked pretty stunning, a little bit more New York than D.C., actually. On a chilly night in January, the clock ticking onto midnight, that was a good thing. We stopped and talked to Katie, and let the rest of the evening roll on by.