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The indie chanteuse kicked off the show's 39th season with a monsterrific version of her ubiquitous counting song, ''1-2-3-4.''
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James Earl Jones
His skit lasted only seconds, but remember that old adage about how a good actor can make the phone book riveting? Jones, fresh-faced and beaming, counted from 1 to 10 with such a commanding voice that you couldn't wait to hear what came next.
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He's never afraid to appear cheesy, and that's why we love him. Stiller sang ''The People in Your Neighborhood'' with Telly. He met a letter carrier and the cable guy, and then decided to dress as a person in the neighborhood, reappearing as a piece of cheese. ''A cheese is a really great fella, call me swiss, brie, or mozzarella.'' Now where's the ham?
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The man in black (okay, he still wore blue denim then) faced off against the monster in green (Oscar at his grumpiest) with a song about Nasty Dan, and ''The only words he ever said were/I don't like you at all,'' which suited Oscar just fine.
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Jones gets stood up by the letter of the day, so she sang ''Don't Know Y'' to Elmo at the piano. Without Y, she couldn't spell her favorite words (like yogurt and yarn). ''Don't know why Y didn't come.''
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Pryor gains a spot on our list merely for his ability to keep us on the edge of our seats, for he didn't just say the alphabet — he had something to add about almost every letter, and the unpredictability of the comic's facial expressions keeps you glued until the very end (though you might wonder if the star was partying before he hit the Street). ''Ain't nobody care about no C,'' he said. But oh yes, we did, and all the letters after that.
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In a joyful jam with the Muppets, the group sang ''Furry Happy Monsters'' (to the tune of ''Shiny Happy People,'' natch) with great abandon. ''Monsters having fun/Happy, happy/See them jump and run/Laughing all the while/Cheerful, cheerful/Flashing a big smile, that's the perfect sign that they're feeling fine.'' Everybody was jumping and laughing...and then it turned sour. ''Furry, sobbing monsters feeling sad.''
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Talking to a group of kids, Jackson gave an early lesson in self-confidence and tolerance, encouraging the tykes to accept differences in one another and in themselves. Black, brown, white, rich, poor, kids were repeating his now-classic motto, ''I am... somebody.''
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The big guy sweetly sang — as if there were any other way — ''I Don't Want to Live on the Moon'' with Ernie, shown living in the sea and dancing on the moon. This is a touching song, with lyrics like ''There's not much to do when your friends are all fish/And an oyster and clam aren't real family/So I don't want to live in the sea.'' And ''Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above/ I would miss all the places and people I love.''
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This is one of those low-key musical performances the show did before deciding to add bouncing Muppets to every number, and the simplicity of it is just beautiful. And so is the song ''Wonder Child'': ''It's you who taught me how to sing/Opened up the world for me/You make me see things through your eyes.'' You kind of have to see it.
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Yup, Simon — rocking a pageboy haircut — was just hanging on the stoop, singing ''Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,'' and he was more than willing to share the spotlight with his young backup singer, who managed to steal the scene out from under him. Did we mention he had hair?
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Who can't look at an oversize chair without thinking of Tomlin's precocious character? ''My name is Edith Ann and I can count to five [blows a big raspberry], but I won't and that's the truth.'' If we didn't learn to stick out our tongues from the kid down the block, we learned it here.
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Shakespeare comes to the Street: Stage lights go up on Stewart, garbed in dark cloak, holding a chunky letter B, and there was never a finer soliloquy. ''B or not a B, that is the question. Whether 'tis the second letter of the alphabet, or some other merry letter.... This letter doth hath two bumps in the front, and I reckon the word bump beginneth with B. Zounds, the word beginneth beginneth with B, if beginneth be a word. Now, by my sword I declare B or not a B, 'tis B. Good night, sweet B.''
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The soprano sings Elmo to sleep with a lullaby. Set to Bizet's Carmen. ''Stars are twinkling up in the sky/It's time for you to go beddie-bye.'' Complete with castanets and bleating sheep. Then Elmo busts out in a toreador's outfit. Not quite a soothing lullaby, but unforgettable nonetheless.
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The blind tenor tries his hand at getting Elmo to sleep, to the tune of ''Time to Say Goodbye,'' with much more soothing effect than Ms. Graves had...until the big finish, anyway. The little red monster pipes in, too, and holds his own against the maestro.
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Without a hint of irony, Blunt sings, to the melody of ''Beautiful,'' this song to Telly: ''This shape was brilliant/This shape was pure/I saw three angles/of that I'm sure/And I saw three pointy corners/and then I saw 3 straight sides/the top was very narrow/and the base was oh so wide.'' It's almost enough to make one weep: ''A triangle/my triangle, it's true/I saw your shape in a crowded place/Now I don't know what to do.''
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Belafonte, sitting under a palm tree, sings a calypso-tinged ditty about a coconut-counting man, with two cute birdies as backup singers. We get a rare glimpse of the Count's feet. (Now, as to why a vampire is sitting on a tropical island, basking IN THE SUN, we can't comment.)
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The king of the timbales squares off against Oscar the Grouch, who wants quiet for a meeting of fellow monsters. But Tito starts to play (what else?) ''Ran Kan Kan'' on pink and lime green drums, and the whole Street is moving along to the beat. Even Oscar can't stay in a foul mood.
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In white tie and tails, the classical cellist joins the Honkers, performing a piece by Murray Beethoven, the famous Honker. The three Honkers accent his playing with various head dings and nose honks. Yo-Yo keeps a wonderfully straight face throughout.
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Sitting in a bathtub, Little Richard plays a funky ode to rubber duckie on the piano, with backup from a sax-playing monster.
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LL Cool J
The rapper goes with Elmo on an Addition Expedition around Sesame Street. ''Add 'em up'' went the refrain. Various monsters were throwing it down as LL and Elmo practiced their mad math skillz.
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The Murphy Brown star gets the tables turned on her when Elmo plays the interviewer. See Bergen make a sad face and find out what makes Elmo happy (using his library card!).
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The funnyman, subdued here, talks about what things are alive, and how to tell if they are. Does it breathe, does it grow? Will it eat a banana or peanuts or a burger? Williams puts his loafer to the test: the shoe is definitely not alive but makes a fine nutcracker.
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Marlee Matlin and Billy Joel
The two serenade Oscar with ''Just the Way You Are.'' ''Just be grouchy/You've done it pretty well so far.'' With Joel's lyrics, Matlin signing, and the Grouch's responses, it's a perfect balance of sweet and nasty.
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The singer, backed by Sesame Street characters, belts out the alphabet, gospel-style, with a rousing finish.