Sunday, May 20, 2012 | 5:12 p.m.
The Billboard Music Awards are on, as 10,000 music fans have crammed into MGM Grand Garden Arena. Awards shows such as this turn the arena into a very large TV studio, and it serves that purpose well. But Grand Garden Studio sounds not so grandiose.
During the white carpet walk before the show, which kept in the great traditions of arrivals carpets all across the land as it was a cluster-mess, Kris Kristofferson said that Taylor Swift is one of the greatest songwriters, ever. And he's known a lot of great songwriters, and happens to be one of the indisputably greatest of all time himself. When I asked what he's listening to right now, he paused and said, "Taylor."
One good moment from Justin Bieber, who said, "I love Las Vegas!" That's really all we need to hear. Steve Wynn and his wife, Andrea, made an unexpected walk down the carpet (at least, I did not expect them) with Berry Gordy Jr. and Andrea's son, Nick Hissom, alongside. Wynn said he and his wife are still vegan, having adopted the diet nearly two years ago, but do come off the menu to eat fish now and then -- especially at their estate in Sun Valley, Idaho. He reiterated, "If you can be a size-34 waist, you have nothing to worry about."
An accounting of the awards announced tonight is at the bottom of this column. Writing from the media center, it is not possible to keep up with the awards announced from the stage, as the video feed is cut as artists are pulled in for brief news conferences. I can tell you Adele, not present this evening (at least not in Las Vegas), won 12 awards.
That said, the night's first award has been issued. "The Internet is where I got my start," says Bieber, as he wins the Top Social Artist award. He also thanks Usher, and God. "Fans, I love you! Everybody!" This is, by my count, the 113th major award won by Bieber, who turned 18 on March 1. That also is the same birthday as Alan Thicke, whose son Robin presents an award tonight. Those who share Bieber's birthday (hello) know that list well.
Robin Gibb is now being honored with a moment of silence. That is followed by Lisa Marie Presley's appearance. Hair looks great. She's giving the Spotlight Award to Katy Perry, proud that she is just the second artist to accept the mid-career, hall-of-fame-styled award. Michael Jackson was the first. Showing her Las Vegas resident grandmother in the audience, Perry says, "I can't wait to do shots with you later!"
Updated at 5:40 p.m.: The Wanted is up now, introduced by co-hosts Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen of "Modern Family." The smoke machine is out. Members of the band had trashed Britney Spears for pulling a diva move on Spears' recent tour (on which The Wanted performed as opening act). The band said they had come upon Spears in a hallway and were told by a Spears rep to avert their eyes as to not make eye-to-eye contact with Spears, who is going to judge on "X Factor," where eye contact (it would seem) is a must. But on the carpet, Tom Parker and Nathan Sykes said they love Britney and want no problems with her. This was a pretty interesting kerfuffle to ... track.
Wiz Khalifa just won for Top New Artist. "I'd like to thank God first 'cuz God is amazing," he says.
Updated at 5:50 p.m.: Thicke recalls Robin Gibb as a great friend of his family. Many Gibbs showed up to his father Alan's wedding. "They can drink, I'll tell you that," said Thicke, who is promoting the new ABC show "Duets" with his appearance in the show tonight. He is the Blake Shelton of "Duets," which also stars John Legend, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Nettles.
Meanwhile, Billboard's tribute to Donna Summer, Natasha Bedingfield's cover of "Last Dance," is cut off by a commercial break.
Updated at 6:10 p.m.: Kristofferson is up, the first of two presenters of the Woman of the Year award to Taylor Swift. Zooey Deschanel is the other. Kristofferson says, "There's nothing I can say about Taylor Swift that she hasn't said already said in a beautiful song." Deschanel reminds the audience that Swift is just 22 years old. "Most 22-year-olds visiting Las Vegas are not being awarded for their success." Swift, as always, thanks her fans. She never says the wrong thing.
Usher, with "Scream," takes the stage. It's a wild, smoke-filled, red-caped production number. No resource spared for Usher.
Updated at 6:15 p.m.: LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," the song that refuses to die, wins Billboard's Hot 100 Single Award. These guys are dressed in every party-attire cliche imaginable. Gordy is cracking up at them, among others.
Updated at 6:20 p.m.: Bieber up now, for "Boyfriend," and he's dancing really well in a bright yellow, long-sleeved T-shirt, white jacket with the sleeves stripped and matching pants. It's a nifty glow-in-the-dark effect. Very hard to tell if he's singing, but it can't be that important with all the technical hooey spilled across the stage. Bieber is a warm kid, but this number is from another planet. By design, I surmise.
Updated at 6:33 p.m.: Burrell and Bowen take a "virtual" tour of the city, as their cardboard cutouts visit Bellagio, Caesars Palace, the Venetian and the Four Seasons. They are the quirkiest people on the stage tonight not named Zooey Deschanel. After that clip, LMFAO, having a high time of it, wins Top Duo/Group. LMFAO is hot tonight. Smokin'.
Updated at 6:35 p.m.: Carrie Underwood, wearing a red dress as opposed to the gray-blue number she wore earlier on the carpet, is up with "Blown Away." One reason to argue in favor of "American Idol" is Carrie Underwood. Severe talent.
Updated at 6:45 p.m.: Gladys Knight, a Las Vegas treasure, introducing Male Artist of the Year. She looks great as she calls out Lil Wayne. Not here, is Lil Wayne. But Linkin Park is, performing "Burn It Down," with pyrotechnics heating up the arena. "Burn it to the ground!" they shout, metaphorically.
Updated at 7 p.m.: Chris Brown wins Best R&B Artist of the Year. Meanwhile, in the media center, LMFAO says, "Vegas is the best place to party!" They remind of Party Rock Mondays with Redfoo at Marquee at the Cosmopolitan. Sky Blu performed a set today at Wet Republic at MGM Grand, prompting Redfoo to say, "He was a little drunk up their onstage." Ah. That 'splains it.
Updated at 7:15 p.m.: Whoopi Goldberg introduces Legend for the tribute to Whitney Houston. He sings "The Greatest Love of All." Jordin Sparks steps in with "I Will Always Love You." Sparks seems almost crying out the lyrics. Pat Houston, Whitney's sister-in-law and manager, tearfully thanks those onstage and Billboard for the tribute. Bobbi Kristina Brown, Houston's daughter, says, "Thank you so much for showing that much love. She deserved it. There will never be another one, ever."
Updated at 7:30 p.m.: Cee Lo with Goodie Mob pays tribute to the late Beastie Boys founder Adam Yauch with "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)." Carrie Underwood sang along, as Bowen happily pointed out. Jean Sok, the one-legged dancer who thrilled audiences in the touring Cirque show "Michael Jackson: the Immortal World Tour" was center stage, dressed in military garb.
Updated at 7:50 p.m.: Alicia Keys introduces Stevie Wonder for "Higher Ground" and performs with him. Both voices are wailing, the bass is hammering this song. Whoa. Now Keys stands at the piano as Wonder plays "Overjoyed." Keys is trembling through this medley, clearly moved at the chance to perform with Wonder, who sounds fantastic. As a late birthday present, Wonder asks Keys to sing "Empire State" a cappella. But the band jumps in. Wonder, who turned 62 on May 13, wins the Billboard Icon Award. He should win all the icon awards, eh? Funny moment as he pulls his glasses down to check out the trophy. His call for world peace is applauded, and with a vast choir backing him up, closes out with "Superstition." His voice roars and horns blare as the credits roll. Nice show, we say in an understated way.
Updated at 8:30 p.m..: In a post-show news conference, I asked Wonder if he had any plans to perform again in Las Vegas, having performed on New Year's Eve at the Cosmopolitan. "How much money are you going to give me?" he responded, laughing. "That New Year's Eve show, that was fun. What happens in Vegas ... yeah!"
Awards: Adele won 12 awards. LMFAO won six awards. GoonRock and Lauren Bennett, both featured on "Party Rock Anthem," each won five awards. Lil Wayne and Coldplay won four awards. Casting Crowns, Jason Aldean and Lady Gaga won two apiece. Lady Antebellum, Romeo Santos, Shakira, Don Omar, Lucenzo, Wiz Khalifa, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland, Chris Brown, Afrojack, Nayer, Ne-Yo, Pitbull, Foster the People, Bieber, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, U2 and Laura Story won one apiece. For the full rundown, hit the Billboard website.