It can't come as a surprise to anyone that the 2009 BET Awards will go down in history as being all about the legacy of one entertainer.
Guess which entertainer? Yes, you guessed correctly.
In what must have taken a monumental effort of teamwork, flexibility, and ingenuity—the annual awards program overhauled whatever original plans it had and hastily centered its entire focus on a tribute to the late Michael Jackson, who passed away unexpectedly last Thursday.
The telecast ran an extra 30 minutes in order to accommodate all of the tribute material.
The tone for the evening was set by a quote from Jackson's father, Joe, who called his son "the greatest star in the world" and told reporters outside the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, "I wish he could be here."
The pre-awards show, generally a fashion fest for stars to show off their latest designer finds, turned into a touching tribute of its own, with hosts Terrence J. and Rocsi asking everyone for their favorite Jackson moment or song.
The mega-stars of the evening seemed honored to take a backseat to Jackson's memory. Host Jamie Foxx opened the show with a request to "celebrate," providing the crowd with a shaky attempt at moonwalking and a re-enactment of Jackson's iconic "Beat It" choreography—complete with red jacket and glove.
Many of the performers of the evening incorporated homages to Jackson: Most notably, Ciara sang his "Heal The World," Best Male R&B winner Ne-Yo performed "Lady In My Life," and New Edition ran through a medley of Jackson 5 hits.
A chant of "Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson," ran through the auditorium as four-time nominee and Best New Artist winner Keri Hilson performed.
Winners of the awards thanked the late Jackson in their speeches, as well. Five-time-nominated Beyonce, who won for Best R&B Female Artist, called Jackson her "hero."
Legendary R&B band the O'Jays, whose classic music won the Lifetime Achievement award, even graciously shared their moment and paid their respects, as singer Eddie Levert touchingly noted how much he'd miss Jackson.
In a tremendous surprise, Jackson's sister Janet took the stage, making her first public appearance sincer her brother's death, and spoke on behalf of her entire family, thanking fans for their love and support. Following her appearance, Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx took the stage to perform the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There."
List of winners:
• Male R&B Artist: Ne-Yo.
• Female R&B Artist: Beyonce.
• Group: Day 26.
• Collaboration: "Blame It," Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain.
• Male Hip Hop Artist: Lil Wayne.
• Female Hip Hop Artist: M.I.A.
• New Artist: Keri Hilson.
• Gospel Artist: Mary Mary.
• Video of the Year: "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," Beyonce.
• Video Director of the Year: Benny Boom.
• Actor: Will Smith.
• Actress: Taraji P. Henson.
• Female Athlete: Serena Williams.
• Male Athlete: LeBron James.
• Centric Award: Jazmine Sullivan.
• Viewer's Choice Award: "Live Your Life," T.I.
• Humanitarians of the Year: Alicia Keys and Wyclef Jean.
• Lifetime Achievement Award: O'Jays.