What to watch for during the Emmys: Trump sings! Travolta weeps! Ellen jokes! Here's what to expect from this year's awards telecast
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Ellen DeGeneres
Credit: Ellen DeGeneres: Chris Polk

Yes, they’ll be handing out a few trophies on Emmy night, but are you really tuning in to the awards show just to watch your favorite stars thank God, their agents, and HBO chief Chris Albrecht? No, you want spectacle, which this year’s show should have in excess. Musical numbers, cartoons, sketches, laughter, tears — you can expect a little of each. Here’s a guide to what to watch for during the Emmys broadcast (8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, on CBS).

THE HOST ”You know me, any excuse to put on a dress,” said Ellen DeGeneres last month when it was announced she’d return as the Emmy emcee. Many Emmy viewers have fond memories of the last time she had the gig, in 2001, shortly after Sept. 11, when she made it safe once again to laugh at showbiz trivialities. It’s a bizarre twist of fate that she’ll have to perform the same function again in the wake of the hurricane that destroyed her hometown of New Orleans.

THE MUSIC Acknowledging the rise of reality TV — and its most popular show — in a big way, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is launching its own ”Emmy Idol” competition, with stars singing familiar TV theme songs during the show and getting judged by viewers at home, who’ll vote on the performances. Ever wanted to hear Donald Trump sing? Now you will, as he duets with Will & Grace‘s Megan Mullally on the theme to Green Acres. Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell will belt the theme from Fame. Some stars will have the help of ringers: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation‘s Gary Dourdan will duet with Macy Gray on ”Movin’ On Up,” from The Jeffersons, while William Shatner will join opera mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade to sing the theme from Star Trek. (Yes, it has words!) Viewers can vote for their favorites at CBS.com or via text messaging; the winner will be named toward the end of the show.

As if that weren’t enough music, the broadcast will open with the Black Eyed Peas and Earth, Wind & Fire performing the latter group’s classic ”September.” Also appearing will be the performance art trio (and Arrested Development guest stars) the Blue Man Group.

THE STARGAZING Since CBS is broadcasting the ceremony this year, you might expect the presenters list to be loaded with the network’s own stars — but this year’s list is long and even-handed. (Sure, you probably wouldn’t see Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson or Threshold‘s Charles S. Dutton as presenters if the Emmys weren’t airing on the Eye.) Among the presenters are Alan Alda, Mischa Barton, Halle Berry, Zach Braff, Geena Davis, Matthew Fox, Adrian Grenier, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Laurie, Conan O’Brien, Kyra Sedgwick, Jon Stewart, Kiefer Sutherland, Quentin Tarantino, and Sela Ward.

While most presenters will appear alone or in pairs, a few will take the stage in groups: Presenting as ensembles are some departing Emmy veterans (the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond), some Emmy newcomers (the cast of Desperate Housewives), and some ”hell will freeze over before they win an Emmy” cartoon characters (the animated cast of Family Guy).

THE NOSTALGIA What does it feel like to win an Emmy? Candice Bergen, Billy Crystal, Charles S. Dutton, Michael J. Fox, Lisa Kudrow, and John Travolta will reminisce, offering their often emotional recollections of how they felt the first time they were called to the podium to pick up a trophy.

Also certain to be emotional will be the memorial tributes. In addition to the usual montage of clips featuring stars who died during the past year, the show will mark the end of the era of the big-three evening newscasters, with clips showing the career highlights of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the late Peter Jennings.

THE CAUSE Magnolia blossoms are this year’s red ribbons. Stars will be wearing them on their lapels as reminders of Hurricane Katrina, since the magnolia is the state flower of both Louisiana and Mississippi. Throughout the broadcast, there will be information for viewers on ways to contribute to or participate in the ongoing relief efforts.

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