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Tonight's TV, this afternoon: Fashion Rocks '07

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Blige_lIn just a few hours, the whole world can join in celebrating New York’s Fashion Week when CBS broadcasts the fourth annual Fashion Rocks concert tonight at 9 p.m. Can’t wait that long to find out what star-studded surprises are in store? Well, luckily for you, PopWatch recently upgraded its crystal-ball technology… and, er, I had a couple of tickets to the show’s live taping last night at Radio City Music Hall… so I can tell you exactly what to expect. This is gonna be way better than a live-blog — it’s a pre-blog!

First, though, let me share a few things that you won’t see tonight:

  • The uptight crowd: In person it was impossible to forget that Fashion Rocks is first and foremost a carefully choreographed high-society event — more like an elite awards ceremony or a runway showcase than a real rock concert. Sitting there in my frayed jeans amidst countless silent, haughty fashionistas, I felt sorta like Anne Hathaway in the first reel of The Devil Wears Prada. Especially when haughty Anna Wintour herself strode past me, turning way more heads than any of the actual rock stars in attendance.
  • Greg Giraldo‘s wickedly political stand-up: The night’s official host was Jeremy Piven, working a decent shtick which my date accurately classified as “nice Ari” — which is to say, not-quite-as-funny Ari. But during set changes and other breaks — all untelevised — Giraldo came out to taunt the in-person audience with some raw free-associative riffs on their overwhelming air of privilege: “What’s up, rich white kids?” The crowd wasn’t exactly feeling it, but I was doubled over in laughter the whole time. Giraldo was pretty genius/offensive at the recent Flavor Flav roast, too; why doesn’t this dude get more work?
  • “Singers” who can’t really sing: Fergie whispered her way through most of “Glamorous,” letting a loud backing track do the heavy vocal lifting; only a cameo from Ludacris saved that song. (Also, her shouts of “If you ain’t got no money, take your broke-broke home” were just a tad ironic — if you ain’t got no money and you’re watching this glitzy gala, sadly, your broke-broke’s almost certainly at home already.) Then again, Fergie Ferg was easily the best part of her opening duet with the dessicated corpses of Aerosmith. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry are finally starting to look like their idols the Stones — only about 5-7 years older. But I’m sure both performances will sound just fine once CBS’ sound engineers have spent all of today tweaking them to perfection.

Sorry, just had to get that negativity out of my system. On to a few moments you should make sure not to miss:

addCredit(“Mary J. Blige and Usher: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com”)

  • Mary J. Blige and Usher (pictured) absolutely killed on a trio of soul classics. A svelte-looking Usher came out first for James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”; his slow-burning vocals were on point, but the baroque, post-Thriller dance routine he was shimmying through that whole time was even more accomplished. Right as Mary J. appeared wailing Aretha’s “Respect,” he leapt into a dramatic full split, then another, before dashing offstage — only to come back a few moments later for a positively regal duet of Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do.” Even this chilly crowd couldn’t help themselves from standing and cheering. The producers might as well have ended the show right there.
  • Jennifer Lopez was the most commanding diva in a room full of ’em. The heavy electro beats of her shockingly awesome new single, “Do It Well,” hit harder than anything she’s put out since, say, “Waiting for Tonight” — a sweeping trance remix of which was her second song of the night. For just a few minutes, Radio City became the pulsing, strobe-lit dance club it was (sorta) meant to be. Didn’t I tell you J.Lo can’t be stopped?
  • Carrie Underwood‘s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” was pretty cool — especially after the first verse, when none other than the Mac’s own Lindsey Buckingham strode out to join her on vocals and guitar. His singing was expressive as ever on the second verse (“Packin’ up, shackin’ up’s all you wanna do”), and his two searing electric solos were a reminder that he’s always been a severely underrated axman.
  • Israeli hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari twitched and smirked like a possessed doll during her superhuman set, racing through her own “We Gonna Win” (accompanied by a sample of rapper Styles P) and a Hendrix-style solo freaking of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” By the time she left, I was feeling pretty nostalgic for 2004, when Kanye West was tossing her squealing strings on every other song he produced.

I could also mention the strong showings from Martina McBride and Jennifer Hudson; the passable performances by Alicia Keys and Maroon 5; and the merely middling turns from Avril Lavigne and Santana featuring Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger; not to mention the scads of celeb presenters. But then what point would there be in tuning in at 9? Anyway, if any of you do watch the show tonight, be sure to let me know what I got wrong…