Show boosts star power, settles in new venue

The American Music Awards have raised their game.

The show, a property of Dick Clark Prods., is in the hands of companies held by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and the new owners are delivering the 35th edition of the kudocast with a number of firsts attached.

The AMAs will be the first awards show broadcast from the

1-month-old Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles. For the first time, a public service charity element and ancillary events have been added to the event, and tickets have been made available to the general public. Voting rules have been changed, too, opening the decisionmaking process to an even larger pool of music fans.

Celine Dion, Lenny Kravitz and Alicia Keys will unveil new material at Sunday’s show, and in another first, fans will have determined the classic song that one act, Duran Duran, will perform. Along with one cut from its latest album, “Red Carpet Massacre,” Duran Duran will play a second tune determined by votes tallied on the Internet between Nov. 1-14.

All of Sunday’s action will take place inside the Nokia, a 7,100-seat hall in the heart of the L.A. Live complex of hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and TV studios that remains under construction. Ten days before the telecast, producer Larry Klein was 100% sure about one thing — he would not be using any of the outside space nor any remotes on the telecast.

“I don’t like leaving the venues for performances,” says Klein, who has been with the AMAs since its inception. “The viewers get lost and don’t know where they are. There’s no right or wrong; it’s just not me. I like to stay inside our joint.”

Klein is one member from the Dick Clark Prods. team still intact months after Snyder’s RedZone Capital acquired DCP for $175 million. (Snyder is now chairman of the board of Dick Clark Prods.) Deal put the AMAs, Golden Globes and Academy of Country Music Awards in the same corporate family as Six Flags amusement parks and Johnny Rockets hamburger stands.

Corporate synergy is on the drawing board, naturally, and the company is already plotting ways to tie in the eateries, amusement parks and DCP shows.

“We have a number of initiatives, but we have only been here for three months,” says Terry Bateman, CEO of both RedZone Capital and Dick Clark Prods. “We want to make sure we take it slow and steady and implement in a smart way.

“We view each show as a brand and want to develop each as realistically as possible,” Bateman adds. “Golden Globes is a pretty strong franchise, but is there an upside to develop? Yes.”

Bateman also notes that the AMAs and ACMs “have been growing at a nice pace, and all have potential” for further growth.

The first edition of the AMAs debuted on Feb. 19, 1974, with Smokey Robinson, Roger Miller and Helen Reddy each singing one of their hits followed by a jingle about American music. Earlier that day, the Academy Awards nominations had been announced, and the music industry was being introduced to Casablanca Records’ new signing, Kiss, at the Century Plaza hotel.

The kudocast was launched because ABC had dropped the Grammy Awards after it was decided to move the show to Nashville. CBS proceeded to score a 51 share with the Nashville Grammys, prompting ABC to enlist Clark, who came up with the idea of the AMAs.

The philosophy of the show then, as now, was to drive home the point that the AMAs celebrate the genres of pop/rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and country, based on the votes of music fans.

“The one thing this has always been is a TV show,” Klein says. “No matter what the theme, no matter who was booked, it’s a TV show that has awards in it. Because of Dick Clark, it’s not being done for the people in the room or for the industry necessarily. It’s for the TV (audience).”

Klein was there when Diana Ross’ “Lady Sings the Blues,” Al Green’s “I’m Still in Love With You” and Jim Croce walked away with trophies at the first AMAs, held just two weeks before the Grammys. Green, Reddy, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Tony Orlando & Dawn and Henry Mancini were among the performers and presenters who took part in both shows.

The industry establishment, however, was not too keen on the timing of the kudocast, suggesting it was stealing some of the Grammys’ thunder.

The American Music Awards truly blossomed in 1984. MTV was still in its infancy, but the music-television marriage was in its honeymoon phase. It was the year of Michael Jackson and “Thriller,” and the AMAs would have looked like they hit the stratosphere in ratings were the Super Bowl not in the same ratings week. The 11th edition of the AMAs had a 27.4 rating and a 41 share, a record for music shows at the time.

The next year’s show cemented its legacy by what happened immediately after: the recording of “We Are the World,” featuring a collection of that year’s winners (Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Hall & Oates, the Pointer Sisters, Lionel Ritchie, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Huey Lewis) plus Jackson, Ross, Wonder, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles and others.

Since then, the AMAs have had a bevy of classic performances: Prince making his primetime debut performing “Purple Rain”; Garth Brooks on several telecasts; Whitney Houston in ’94; Shania Twain and Mariah Carey in 1996; Lauper’s duet with Sarah McLachlan on “Time After Time”; Outkast, Ashanti and Jay-Z in the past few years.

In 2003, after 29 years of being bunched with every other kudocast in the first three months of the year, the AMAs were moved to November, where the show has steadily attracted artists who have new material to perform.

“The November timeslot is so much better for artists,” Klein says. “It’s a great time for promotion, and it has helped attract a lot more talent.”

This year’s show is also attempting to raise awareness about hunger in America. DCP will be working with America’s Second Harvest, which secures and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually and supports approximately 50,000 local charitable agencies.

“We think we can use the publicity surrounding our various programs and events to try to shine a light on this very real problem,” Bateman says.

TIP SHEET

WHAT: 35th Annual American Music Awards

WHERE: Nokia Theater, Los Angeles; airs on ABC

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday

HOST: Jimmy Kimmel

PERFORMERS: Alicia Keys with Sean Paul & Shabba Ranks, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion, Lenny Kravitz, Chris Brown with T-Pain, Avril Lavigne, Queen Latifah, Rascal Flatts, Nicole Scherzinger, Maroon 5, Daughtry, Fergie, Rihanna, Sugarland, Duran Duran, Jonas Brothers, will.i.am

APPEARING: Akon, Christina Applegate, Ashanti, Natasha Bedingfield, James Blunt, Justin Chambers, Sheryl Crow, Chyler Leigh, Miley Cyrus, Gene Simmons, Matt Dallas, Fabolous, Kirk Franklin, Josh Groban, Tony Hawk, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lyfe Jennings, Sean Kingston, Solange Knowles, Kellie Pickler, Ryan Seacrest, Slash, Scott Weiland, Snoop Dogg, Jordin Sparks, Taylor Swift, Blair Underwood, Carrie Underwood, Usher

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