BET Awards organizers ready for record turnout as artists prepare Jackson tributes

By Sandy Cohen, AP
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Entertainers ready Jackson tributes for BET Awards

LOS ANGELES — The Shrine Auditorium became an entertainment epicenter Saturday, as performers and organizers prepared for the Sunday’s BET Awards show that’s being retooled as a tribute to Michael Jackson.

Black Entertainment Television modified its plans after learning of Jackson’s death Thursday. Artists quickly got on board.

Some changed their performances to honor Jackson, while others who hadn’t intended to attend changed their plans to participate in the first formal celebrity gathering since the passing of the King of Pop.

Here’s a peek into the preparations:

HILSON’S SALUTE: Keri Hilson and her eight backup dancers needed a little extra rehearsal time to perfect their routine, which was changed to honor Jackson.

The singer-songwriter, who is set to perform a medley of her hits “Turnin’ Me On” and “Knock You Down,” followed a trio of choreographers as she attempted to master the new moves.

The dazzling, dance-filled number starts with Hilson perched on a motorcycle in the middle of a dynamic stage filled with TV screens and neon lights.

It ends with Hilson and her dancers hitting Jackson-inspired moves and repeating his name.

A GOOD SOULJA: Soulja Boy studied Michael Jackson’s dance moves when he was a kid, but he won’t be busting any out Sunday.

“I wanted to, but the song I’m performing is not really a dance song,” the 18-year-old rapper said. “I know all the Michael Jackson moves.”

He plans to perform his latest hit, “Turn My Swag On.” Surrounded by pyrotechnics, Soulja Boy opens the song by singing from a bed topped with a blue velvet bedspread in the center of the stage.

He’ll perform it straight — nothing special to honor Jackson’s memory.

“I just want to turn it up and do the best I can do,” the rapper said. “Michael Jackson, that’s a legend. It’s hard to live up to what he accomplished.”

PRESS HERE: The media-credentialing tent outside the Shrine Auditorium was quiet Saturday, but it’s bound to be bustling Sunday. The awards publicity team is expecting twice as many media outlets as usual.

Last-minute requests to cover the show have been rolling in since Thursday.

Organizers are also considering lengthening the red carpet — in time and distance — to accommodate additional media and allow show guests ample opportunities to share their thoughts on Jackson’s legacy.

BRING ON THE BLING: The BET Awards gift lounge, produced by GBK, was bustling Saturday as nominees and presenters loaded up on fancy freebies.

“Transformers” star Tyrese Gibson, pro basketball player Lisa Leslie and Hilson were among the celebs who perused the offerings, which included diamond watches, headsets, Caribbean vacations and a year’s supply of Botox.

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