Though the first Online Music Awards were held Feb. 5 both at L.A.’s House of Blues and on America Online, the event was so virtual it barely seemed to happen at all. As synth-pop star-turned-multimedia developer Thomas Dolby sat at a computer emceeing the awards, the eerie quiet of cyberspace seemed to invade this small room at the nightclub. That this music-awards ceremony featured no music was just one of the evening’s peculiarities. Dolby’s job was to enter prewritten text one line at a time to give the impression of a casual chat. ”It’s like a TelePrompTer,” he said. ”Only instead of reading it, you cut and paste.”
The OMAs, whose winners were chosen by AOL subscribers earlier this month, were interrupted at one point when Dolby announced that Hootie & the Blowfish had called in. ”We’ve just received a message from the band that they wanted us to pass along,” reported Dolby. Actually, though, the message had been phoned in hours earlier when the band was informed it had won seven awards (including Album of the Year and Best Rock/Pop Group).
At one point Best Female Vocalist Alanis Morissette connected from backstage at a New York concert. But what the online participants didn’t know was that she was fielding questions over the phone with a typist at AOL’s Virginia HQ and was nowhere near a computer.
This ceremony several times removed is, alas, just the start: The day after the OMAs, AOL announced cinema and TV awards for later this year. ”The event is online,” says AOL’s Margaret Ryan. ”It doesn’t matter where [the musicians] are. To our members, they’re all in one room.” And that’s exactly the point. Since the audience can’t know, that’s all the more reason not to mislead them.