Alicia Keys and newcomer Nicki Minaj were the big winners at the 10th annual BET Awards, both taking home two statuettes during the ceremony held last night (June 27) at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. However, the evening's real buzz centered around several captivating performances/comebacks, most notably Chris Brown's surprise return to the BET stage in an emotional dance tribute marking the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death.
Kanye West performs at BET Awards
Silhouetted behind a large screen, Brown was greeted by appreciative cheers from a standing Shrine audience as he took to the stage, gliding and moonwalking across the floor to several Jackson classics including "Billie Jean" and "Smooth Criminal." Then he became choked up and unable to sing the final song in the tribute, "Man in the Mirror." Returning to the stage to accept the AOL Fandemonium award, Brown told the audience, "I let you all down before, but I won't do it again. I promise." Brown had been slated to appear at last year's BET Awards but did not appear then in the wake of his domestic violence case involving Rihanna.
Video: Eminem performs at BET Awards
Hosted by Queen Latifah, the evening boasted other standout performers including a spirited and pregnant Alicia Keys, Eminem backed by a rousing choir on "Not Afraid," Monica joined by R&B legend Deniece Williams, T.I. in his first television appearance since finishing his jail term and Diddy-Dirty Money. Kanye West, who opened the awards show with "Power," marked his return to an awards stage following his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift's MTV acceptance speech last year. Closing the proceedings was Ludacris, joined by DJ Khaled, T-Pain and Rick Ross. A special performance including gospel stars Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and Marvin Sapp saluted ongoing relief efforts on behalf of Haiti.
Video: Nicki Minaj accepts BET Award
Keys was named best female R&B artist and also won best collaboration with Jay-Z for the pair's Big Apple anthem "Empire State of Mind." Crowned best new artist, Minaj claimed best female hip-hop artist kudos as well. Joining the ladies in the winners' circle were Trey Songz (best male R&B artist), Drake (best male hip-hop artist), Young Money (best group) and Marvin Sapp (best gospel). Absentees Beyoncé and Lady Gaga picked up the video of the year award for "Video Phone." Rihanna and Young Jeezy won the viewer's choice award for "Hard."
Video: Alicia Keys performs Prince tribute at BET Awards
Rounding out the evening were salutes to special award honorees John Legend and Prince. Legend received BET's humanitarian award on behalf of his charitable efforts. Music icon Prince was presented with this year's lifetime achievement award. To the disappointment of many in the audience, Prince did not perform But he was paid tribute musically by Janelle Monae, bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, Alicia Keys and Patti LaBelle, who sang a riveting version of "Purple Rain."
The BET Awards annually recognize achievements in music, film and sports. A complete list of BET Awards winners can be found at bet.com.