By Whitney Pastorek
Updated November 24, 2008 at 06:15 PM EST

Kudos to this year’s American Medley Music Awards for showcasing as diverse a field of artists as possible within the inevitable limits arising whenever anything is controlled largely by the voting public/record sales, and putting everyone’s best foot forward in the process! The winners of the actual super-stabby crystal trophies of death can be found after the jump, but in my opinion tonight’s real victor was the music business itself, as singer after singer took the mic and, with a couple glaring exceptions, proved themselves worthy of the airtime.

I’m more than a bit of a naysayer when it comes to the chart-topperz of the day, and when they said this was to be the youngest AMAs in history, I must admit I shuddered with dread. But the evening flowed smoothly — in part thanks to the complacent consistency of host and noted Kanye West enthusiast Jimmy Kimmel, in part just thanks to the breakneck pace they had to maintain to get everyone on stage — and if there was embarrassment to be had, it was mostly claimed by the 30-and-older set. (Note to Jamie Foxx, Scott Weiland, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Aerosmith: don’t forget to tip your servers.)

We didn’t get a song from newly anointed Artist of the Year Chris Brown (pictured), although I can think of at least one act out of the 19 that did appear who could have been excised to make room for him. Still, there’s less than I thought there would be to complain about, and my only overriding quibble is with the fact that no one took the time to thank their choreographer. Keep reading for my three bests and three worsts of the night, “three” being an arbitrary number chosen by my editors to keep me from nattering on like I did after the CMAs. It’s really just as well.

addCredit(“Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic “)


1. Blond Ladies How I’d love to go back to 1999 and put money down on Christina Aguilera to kick Britney’s ass. The mistress of melisma is pushing a greatest hits collection at the moment, giving her the night’s best excuse for performing a medley and underscoring just how rare it is that any artist survives an ass-less chaps phase with dignity intact. Even though I couldn’t help but think Dude, that’s somebody’s MOM in the middle of “Dirrty,” she was a hell of a way to kick off the show, and her platinum sisters followed suit: Pink was introduced by Weiland as “one of the great artists of our time,” and I got my pen out to write something snarky but then realized I kind of agreed with him and sat back to watch her demonstrate the proper way to both pull off a purple ballgown and bounce back from heartache with new single “Sober”; she also made Sarah McLachlan more interesting than she’s been in 10 years by joining her on “Angel” and throwing a little grit on all the treacle. Natasha Bedingfield started classic and clean, bringing welcome vocal simplicity on “Unwritten” before everything got all clogged up by those unnecessary breakdancers during “Pocketful of Sunshine.” My arch-nemesis Taylor Swift put in her best broadcast television appearance yet, once she got off the couch and actually started to sing “White Horse,” and I’ll let up on her if she promises to strive for that level of visible human emotion every time she performs. But the biggest blond bombshell of all was, hands down, Ms. Annie Lennox, winner of a special merit award and the best advertisement for living past 50 I’ve seen in years. One wonders if all these (surely Simon Fuller-sponsored) TV appearances Annie’s been making of late are translating into any record sales amongst the Swift set — but if they aren’t, at least those of us old enough to already have all her records are getting the benefit of ferociously gorgeous performances like “Why” along the way. The look in her eyes on the line “This boat is sinking” basically decimated me.

2. Ne-Yo The classy gentleman stepped out with a Bond-infused, bowler-capped two-fer of “Miss Independent” and “Closer,” using dapper dance moves, a crackerjack horn section, and his bold tenor to turn the Nokia into his own personal gin joint. If the point of this show is to move the merchandise, consider me a satisfied new Ne-Yo customer.

3. Beyoncé I almost gave Miley Cyrus this slot because it’s her 16th birthday and she overcame many of her pop-robot tendencies (and some seriously creepy backup dancers) to hold my attention through an entire song for the first time ever — but 16 is still too young to be writhing about in public, so my general discomfort disqualified her. Likewise, I ruled out Mariah Carey for relying entirely too much on her fan to make a dull song float, Coldplay for doing the same thing if you substitute “confetti” for “fan,” and Rihanna for a performance of “Rehab” featuring scaffolding, fire, and an eye patch that was very nearly as much of a hot mess as its video. Thus have I turned to the highly satisfying “Single Ladies” dance party, even though it was almost the exact same “Single Ladies” dance party we got on SNL a week ago. Whatever. It’s still a killer song. Although: Should I be concerned that all us single ladies are now adopting a group hand gesture? Might I abstain?


1. Boy Bands Ugh. Slaughter me if you must in the comments, Jonas Bros. fans, but your breakthrough boys kind of sounded like crap last night, and were certainly not helped by whoever cranked their nasally, out-of-key vocals way too loud in the mix. (Doesn’t anyone rehearse with their people in the truck anymore?) Technical issues aside, there was something generally unfocused and unbelievable about the confluence of puppy angst and kitten-soft falsetto on “Tonight,” and I think Jimmy Eat World wants their mixtape back. Meanwhile, over in Stonehenge, that sloppy New Kids on the Block medley would have struggled to make the grade at Hershey Park on a Tuesday afternoon, and at least two of those guys now look like dentists. Chris Brown has sneezed better.

2. Kanye West Dude. Kanye. I will write this in all caps in hopes of speaking your language: YOU ARE A GAZILLIONAIRE. CHEER THE HELL UP. You want the awards, you don’t want the awards, you have an increasingly awkward relationship with women, you boldly challenge your peers but then say ridiculous things like “I want to be Elvis,” you are collapsing into self-parody…and was that a dead raccoon in your pocket?

3. The Big Finale It pains me to do it, and I place no blame on Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah, or Kathleen Battle as individuals for their closing performance of “Superwoman.” But the song could not support their combined weight, nor did it — in light of the fact that half the audience was probably still making that “Single Ladies” hand gesture — inspire me to hoist my uterus up the flagpole in the way it was probably meant to. It was just kind of random. And really: Kathleen Battle? I suppose one way to keep the assortment of divas in check at this sort of thing is to bring in a bigger diva to frighten them into submission, but she was more out of place than a copy of Chinese Democracy in Slash’s CD player. This year’s AMAs were indeed all about excellence in vocal performance, but that was awkward overkill at the very moment things should have reached divine transcendence. Also, Alicia? Have you no one in your life with whom you can leave your handbag when it’s time to accept an award?

Okey-doke, I’m done. Your turn to weigh in, PopWatchers: Who delivered your favorite performances? Which one of Rihanna’s outfits pained you more? Is it okay that I decided not to comment on the Pussycat Dolls because I refuse to acknowledge their existence in a world created by a beneficent God? Did anyone care about The Fray’s Very Special Episode Of Grey’s Anatomy? And if it’s not Chris Brown, who’s your Artist of the Year, bearing in mind that said “year” includes the latter half of 2007, not 2008?


Favorite Male Artist: Chris Brown
Favorite Female Artist: Rihanna
Favorite Band, Duo, or Group: Daughtry
Favorite Album: Alicia Keys, As I Am

Favorite Male Artist: Brad Paisley
Favorite Female Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Band, Duo, or Group: Rascal Flatts
Favorite Album: Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride

Favorite Male Artist: Kanye West
Favorite Band, Duo, or Group: Three 6 Mafia
Favorite Album: Kanye West, Graduation

Favorite Male Artist: Chris Brown
Favorite Female Artist: Rihanna
Favorite Album: Alicia Keys, As I Am

Jonas Brothers

Favorite Artist: Third Day

Favorite Artist: Linkin Park

Favorite Artist: Jordin Sparks

Favorite Album: Alvin & The Chipmunks

Favorite Artist: Enrique Iglesias

Artist of the Year: Chris Brown