The top 10 American Music Award highlights -- not! Mariah's self-congratulation, Eminem's no-show, and the Osbournes' tired behavior all make Chris Willman's list
Christina Aguilera
Credit: Christina Aguilera: Michael Caulfield/

The top 10 American Music Award highlights — not!

Just when we’ve been feeling some sympathy for the music industry — where sales are plummeting, records stores are closing, and top execs are being unceremoniously ousted — along comes the American Music Awards to remind us what’s really wrong with music today.

What do Shaggy, Matchbox Twenty, Johnny Rzenick of the Goo Goo Dolls, Dru Hill, 3 Doors Down, and Tyrese have in common? They’re all rapidly waning stars who’ve released dud albums in the last three or four months that have already died and gone to cutout bin heaven. Either these acts were all booked for the ABC show before the producers had a clue how over they’d be by Jan. 13, or their reps had some favors to call in.

Some of the other big names in attendance, we can only wish would quietly go away, starting with the hosts, the Osbournes, who officially wore out their welcome once and for all in their opening moments on the Shrine Auditorium stage. All right, guys, you swear — we get it! The bleeped f-word has already turned into the most tiresome comic schtick since Pauly Shore’s use of the word “dude” — maybe even since the spit-take went out of style — but it’s apparently all this sitcom clan has to ride on.

That said, here are some of the other, uh, highlights of the AMAs:

1) Missy Elliott has a huge hit, ”Work It,” that in more prudish times would’ve been classified as soft porn. Love it or hate it, the song is an unabashed celebration of sex, with its blatant lyrical references to oral sex, penis size, female genitalia, shaving pubic hair, sexual positions, and so forth. So how best to illustrate this raunchy number for millions of ABC viewers? Have some little girls come out and breakdance while Missy does her rap. On the very day that Pete Townshend was arrested, you’d think someone would have better sense than to associate prepubescents with the nasty.

2) There seemed to be no act too low for Sharon Osbourne to champion…except one. She broke from her slavishness just once, when she announced a win for Creed, making an ugly face and dismissively tossing the envelope aside. You may hate Creed as much as she does, but are they really that much worse than most of the acts whose butts she kissed on the show…like, say, daughter Kelly, whose pitch-free performance of ”Shut Up” wouldn’t have made it past the first round in a local talent contest?

3) Mariah Carey’s reading of the recent non-hit ”Through the Rain” was positioned as a moving tribute to…Mariah Carey. With a gospel chorus providing emotional support, Carey herself was overshadowed by a hilariously narcissistic video montage, incorporating everything from sound bites about her emotional breakdown to clips of kiddies declaring their faith in her comeback.

4) If you’re going to diss an awards ceremony by not coming to pick up your multiple trophies — as Eminem didn’t — don’t add insult to injury by having a pal call you from the stage. Em’s ”8 Mile” costar Mekei Pfeiffer assured us that ”This is Eminem on the phone, y’all! He said he wanted to give a shout-out to Dick Clark.”

5) Nickelback’s performance was inexplicably letterboxed, as if to persuade viewers that they were watching a Major Motion Picture Event. One of the funniest moments of the show came when the group’s frontman called out ”Sing with me!” — and then launched again into a chorus so mumble-mouthed that only the most hardcore fans would have the slightest idea what he was singing to begin with.

6) Did Sheryl ”Peacenik” Crow look like she was being forced to introduce Toby ”Give War a Chance” Keith at gunpoint, or what?

7) Hall and Oates — excuse me, Daryl Hall and John Oates — may go down in the Comedy Killer Hall of Fame. While presenting an award with Heidi Klum, Hall hesitated awkwardly as he peered at the cue cards and said, ”Daryl Hall and John Oates and Klum! I like it.” Added Oates: ”Sounds like an accounting firm!” Well, guys, it would have sounded like an accounting firm if you’d read the joke the way it was presumably written. But they so hate being called by just their last names, they had to insert their first names as well, even if it ensured the gag didn’t make sense any more. Mariah Carey, take heart: You’re never too past your prime to indulge in fatal acts of hubris.

8) Speaking of hubris, three acts announced release dates for their projects (or a sister’s, in the case of Beyoncé and Solange) from the stage. But nothing quite compared to Tyrese’s ”I just gave birth to my third child Dec. 17…” (congratulatory applause here) ”…and it’s named ‘I Wanna Go There”’ (awkward silence here).

9) On the plus side, the Dixie Chicks picked up seemingly every country award in sight. That, combined with Alabama’s career achievement award, reminded us that at least one genre may actually be better than a decade ago, when Alabama was inexplicably winning AMAs every single year.

10) One notable performance: Shania Twain’s demonstration that all her post-pregnancy time on the Stairmaster has come in handy. She bravely sang her new single, ”Up!,” while climbing a makeshift staircase from the floor of the Shrine to the balcony, losing neither her nerve nor her breath (and not lip-synching, unlike the young wimps in B2K). It was a wonderful, infectious little tune, even if the achievement here was more calisthenic than artistic.

In any case, Twain provided a theme song both for the AMAs and for the beleaguered music industry: ”Up, up, up — can only go up from here.” Out of the mouths of babes…