by Charlie Amter
Dec 9, 2004, 9:15 AM PT
The 2004 Billboard Music Awards wrapped hours ago, and Usher is still saying, "Yeah!"
The chart-busting singer walked away with a leading 11 awards at the music biz's biggest popularity contest, including trophies for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year for Confessions and Hot 100 Single of the Year for "Yeah!" (featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris). His Confessions has sold more than seven million copies in the U.S. since it dropped in March.
The R&B; star, who opened the show by descending from the ceiling, was relaxed and humble backstage Wednesday--hard to believe for a man who has owned 2004 by dominating the charts (he became the first artist in more than three decades to top Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart four times in a calendar year), sweeping the American Music Awards last month and racking up eight Grammy nods this week. He cashed in on all but two categories he was up for at the Billboard gala.
"I'm just happy that, year after year, every time I put out an album, it's recognized," Usher said following the ceremony, which was held as Las Vegas' MGM Grand Casino and telecast on Fox. "It's a great compliment to receive awards."
Other big winners Wednesday included Alicia Keys with seven, OutKast with five and Kanye West with four. Per Billboard tradition, the hardware was doled out on the basis of radio airplay, album and single sales and Internet downloading--all of which boil down to determining the year's most popular acts. The categories correspond to the various charts tracked in the trade magazine.
Among Keys' haul, Female Artist of the Year.
"It feels wonderful to win...especially because this award comes from the love of the people really loving the music--that really means a lot to me," the New York City-based singer said.
West, who topped Tuesday's Grammy nominations with 10 for his smash breakthrough, The College Dropout, played politics, trying to spin his way out of some embarrassing comments made after the American Music Awards. The Chi-town rapper had said he was "robbed" after getting shut out at the AMAs, but now he says he blames his reaction on him "just being a new artist." West says he didn't mean to offend anyone and that he has since apologized to and talked with several artists to explain his statements.
Usher and Keys, both of whom performed Wednesday, may have dominated the trophy count, but the night belonged to Stevie Wonder.
Wonder was presented with the Century Award for Creative Achievement, Billboard's highest honor. Longtime pals Quincy Jones and Diana Ross praised Wonder's talent, while Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child and Diana Ross (whose flowing red gown was the show's highlight) all performed classic Wonder tunes onstage with Wonder joining in on "Higher Ground."
During his acceptance speech, the singer offered a shout-out to Dick Clark, who suffered a stroke earlier in the week. Backstage, he struck a harmonious note, saying, "We must come together and love." The singer also revealed his new record, A Time 2 Love, will be out in May.
Meanwhile, 50 Cent made some pop-culture history by scoring Billboard's newest award (Ringtone of the Year) with his catchy-as-all-get-out hit "In Da Club."
But the show was about more than awards.
Britney Spears caused the biggest buzz on the red carpet, making her first public appearance since her wedding to Kevin Federline. (And as a belated honeymoon present, she also collected a prize for Hot Dance Sales Single of the Year for her duet with Madonna on "Me Against the Music.")
And busty Tara Reid, fresh off her embarrassing boob-baring incident at a P. Diddy party in New York (captured by red carpet shutterbugs for all the world to see), narrowly averted a fall on her way to the presenter stand during the show.
Speaking of embarrassments, Ashlee Simpson, who was named Female New Artist of the Year, made a point of heading backstage to face the press again at the show--still trying to spin herself out of her SNL meltdown. "If you're ever feeling nervous or unsure of yourself," the hoedown-happy singer joked, "I have a little trick--it's called the Texas Jig."
Host Ryan Seacrest tried to inject some energy into the crowd, which intermittently roused for some of the key performances by the likes of Nelly, Green Day, Evanescence and No Doubt's Gwen Stefani.
Here's a complete roundup of the winners of the 2004 Billboard Music Awards:
Artist of the Year: Usher