It was an evening of Black star power as the finest of African American celebrities and artists lit up Los Angeles’ historic Shrine Auditorium Tuesday night for the BET Awards 2007. Star-studded tributes to those who paved the way for a new generation of entertainers and captivating performances by nominees hit the stage in a major way.
Vocalists Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson opened the show belting out a powerful duet of “And I am Telling You I'm Not Going,” which was followed by a sassy number by host Mo’Nique and what she called her "big girl" dancers. After catching her breath from her quick-moving dance number, Mo’Nique moved the show right along to the evening's first award presentation – Video of the Year.
Queen Latifah, with the help of the pre-taped fan assistance that was a running theme throughout the award show, announced the nominees and got right down to the winner – Beyonce for “Irreplaceable.” Atlanta-born rapper T.I. then hit the stage for an invigorating performance.
Mo’Nique put it best when she commented, “The one thing I love about our award shows is that they ain’t nothing but a big house party.”
Artist after artist, the audience was visibly enthralled with each performance which included duets by Ne-Yo and Fabulous, Diddy and Keisha Cole with a surprise guest in Lil’ Kim. Beyonce wowed viewers with her robotic-like entrance that lead into a routine featuring Kelly Rowland's sexed up image of “Like This,” Michelle Williams and little sister Solange.
The night progressed through weavings of performances and award presentations that included: Best Group – Gnarls Barkley; Best Actor – Forest Whitaker; Best Actress – Jennifer Hudson; Best Hip-Hop Artist – T.I.; Best Collaboration – Ludacris/Mary J. Blige for “Runaway Love;” Best New Artist – Jennifer Hudson; Best Male Athlete – LeBron James; Best Female Athlete – Serena Williams; BETJ Cool Like That – Gerald Levert; Best Gospel Artist – Kirk Franklin; Best Male R&B Artist – Ne-Yo; Best Female R&B Artist – Beyonce; and Viewers Choice Award – Birdman and Lil’ Wayne for “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy.”
Award presenters included actor Michael Clarke Duncan and American Idol winner Jordan Sparks, songbird Rihanna, Chris Brown, Vivica Fox and Reggie Bush. But it was Patti LaBelle who gave an emotional introduction to an emotional tribute to the late Gerald Levert.
Eddie Levert hushed audience members with the start of “Wind Beneath My Wings” as a pictorial of his son as a backdrop. He was joined by the unmistakable vocals of Gladys Knight, Yolanda Adams and LaBelle. The tear-filled audience was visibly moved by their rendition as they swayed and shook their heads in disbelief of Gerald’s untimely death.
The mood changed at the announcement of this year's BET Lifetime Achievement honoree. Stated presenter Alicia Keys, “When it comes to raw talent, there are only two words that I think of – Diana Ross. …She is the very definition of a living legend.”
Ross' career that spans nearly five decades was highlighted in performances by Erykah Badu, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder. Her five children – Rhonda, Tracee, Chudney, Ross and Evan – introduced their mother who graced the stage in a flowing red gown and voiced her gratitude stating, “It’s been an incredible journey.”
The 63-year-old who called herself a young diva added, “You don't have to say the f-word or pump and grind and things like that to have longevity. You can stand tall, be ladies and gents, and have a long career.”
Before exiting the stage Ross said, “It took me a long time to get here and I ain't going nowhere.”
BET president and CEO, Debora Lee presented actor and activist Don Cheadle with this year’s BET Humanitarian Award for his efforts in raising awareness of the genocide in Darfur.
In a sleek black tux, Cheadle “graciously and humbly” said thank you and that he hopes to work more with the Black community in raising awareness of the crisis.
The night was not complete without a tribute to the “Godfather of Soul.” Rev. Al Sharpton introduced the musical performance stating, “James Brown was a vocalist that embodied soul music. …Mr. Brown was tuned into your soul.” He then referred to the tribute as one to Brown's dedication to the struggle. Public Enemy sang a lively version of “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” that brought the audience to its feet and the show to a close.