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Emmys 2017
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Pre-Grammys swank at the Clive Davis dinner

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For music industry insiders, perhaps the most coveted invite of the year is not to “music’s biggest night,” as the Grammy Awards call themselves, but rather to the unaffiliated pre-party thrown one night before. Its initials: CD. As in Clive Davis. He’s the mogul behind dozens of Arista Records success stories (including his date for the night, Whitney Houston), who later launched J Records (home to Alicia Keys) and who now holds the title of SonyBMG chairman. In other words, he’s someone with serious cred, both as an industry titan and as a man with an ear for talent and an ability to market both newcomers (like his stable of Idol-minted stars) and vets whose careers had cooled (Carlos Santana, Rod Stewart). Which is why so many stars clamor to be in his presence for this swanky fete, honoring the best of music’s past, present, and future in a black-tie environment that’s rock-n-roll loose.

So who made the cut this year? Rocker regulars like the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock, Scott Weiland, and Slash (his seventh year!) were back on the Beverly Hilton patio (also known as the smoking section), while hip-hop luminaries P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, and Russell Simmons mingled inside. Actors and TV personalities were in the mix as well — Bill Maher, Ellen DeGeneres with girlfriend Portia de Rossi, Meg Ryan, and Jon Voight all made the dinner table rounds, while school buds Terrence Howard and Tara Reid (who knew?) caught up in a corner. Newcomers included chart-toppers like Rihanna, Natasha Bedingfield, and Akon and plenty of recently-christened Idols, among them season five’s Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry, and Katharine McPhee. And then there were the divas: Whitney, Mary J., and Christina Aguilera, who kicked off the two-hour-plus show with “Candy Man,” an appropriate choice, as there were many more treats to come.

Like the self-described “dark prince of Senegal,” Akon, who took thestage next to demonstrate what launched his ascent to the top of thecharts, the solo hit “I Wanna Love You.” He was followed by yet anotherIdol alum, Carrie Underwood, who had only attended last year,but this time around was the evening’s sole country performer, singingtwo songs off her multi-platinum debut, “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and“Before He Cheats.” Once again, the Black Eyed Peas took things up anotch for the third night in a row, and Grammy-nominated Pink wowed thecrowd with a dead-on rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,”which Davis explained was the first song he ever heard Pink sing andwas what compelled him to sign the tough and somewhat-troubled Phillynative.

As has become tradition in this almost two-decade old event, Davistakes every set-changing opportunity to talk about each one of theartists performing as well as many of the guests, name-checking friends(Quincy Jones, CBS chief Les Moonves), politicians (Al Gore, L.A. MayorAnthony Villaraigosa) and long-time colleagues (Island DefJam PresidentL.A. Reid, Warner Music Group head Lyor Cohen). It is that kind ofattention to detail, complete with piles of paper containing meticulousnotes, that makes Davis the ultimate host and this the ultimate party.

But there was one hitch in the night’s performance plan. JustinTimberlake called out sick at 7:15 p.m. (the official prognosis: flu),and Clive and crew were forced to scramble. Fortunately, with a room of1,000 music industry professionals, there was no need to make a singlecall as Davis simply asked old pal Smokey Robinson to fill in. Theoldie but goodie “My Girl” got P. Diddy and Nelly up on their feetalong with countless others there to appreciate the makings of a goodsong. But Smokey was merely an interlude to the evening’s mainattraction, Jennifer Hudson. Hot off an Oscar nomination and anewly-signed recording contract with J/Arista, she belted “And I AmTelling You” with the same passion and intensity of her Dreamgirlsperformance. Even the typically stoic Naomi Campbell was singing along.A show-stopper, indeed and a fitting finale to music’s second biggestnight.