AMAs Producer on Taylor Swift Receiving New Dick Clark Award, Pitbull's Hosting Skills & More
American Music Awards producer Larry Klein has worked on the long-running awards show for nearly 40 years, but when he organizes it each year, "I still feel like a kid," he admits.
“I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I’m still that Milwaukee kid,” Klein tells Billboard ahead of the 2014 AMAs, which air live from Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre on Nov. 23. ABC will broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET.
“I’m listening to these [artists] on the radio and all of a sudden I find myself talking to them. Even though I’ve been part of this show for so many years, I’m still in awe of it.”
He’s especially looking forward to this year’s list of superstar performers, including Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, One Direction, Sam Smith, Nicki Minaj, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Selena Gomez, Garth Brooks, 5 Seconds of Summer and second-year AMAs host, Pitbull.
In addition to opening the AMAs with her history-making new single “Blank Space,” Swift will also receive the first-ever Dick Clark Award for Excellence. “It’s the perfect time to do it and Taylor deserves it with her three record-breaking albums,” Klein says. “There’s no one better to receive it.”
Azalea leads the 2014 AMAs with six nominations, including artist of the year, new artist of the year, single of the year, favorite female artist -- pop/rock. Following close behind is John Legend, Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams with five nominations each. Lorde is up for four awards.
Dubbed as “the world’s biggest fan-voted award show,” AMAs nominees are based on key fan interactions as reflected in Billboard Magazine and on Billboard.com, including album and digital singles sales, radio airplay, streaming and social activity. Billboard and its data partners, including Nielsen Entertainment and Next Big Sound, track the measurements.
The AMAs are produced by Dick Clark Productions. Allen Shapiro and Mike Mahan are executive producers, with Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco joining Klein as producers.
Billboard caught up with Klein in the days leading up to the 2014 AMAs to discuss the story behind the new Dick Clark Award for Excellence, his strategy in booking performers, Pitbull’s second year as host, this year’s category changes, and much more.
Taylor Swift is receiving the inaugural Dick Clark Award for Excellence at this year’s AMAs. How did the new award come together?
Dick Clark created this show 40-some years ago. The man was a visionary and legend. It’s the perfect time to do it and Taylor deserves it with her three record-breaking albums, each one selling over 1 million copies the first week. There’s no one better to receive it.
Taylor was so excited about getting an award named after Dick. I recently got a hold of Dick’s wife, Kari, and said, “You’re going to be smiling when you come to the show because we’re giving out the first-ever Dick Clark Award to Taylor Swift.” She got so happy because Dick liked Taylor an awful lot.
Swift is also opening the AMAs with the television debut of “Blank Space.” Who selected that song?
We wanted Taylor Swift badly. She’s the one who selected the song, period. How much better can it be than to open up a show with Taylor Swift? Everywhere you go, you see her name, you hear her music and people are talking about her. It’s like the perfect storm. Team Taylor has their act together. Everything is laid out on every level. We’re a part of their plan and it works perfectly for us.
Last year’s AMAs drew 12.93 million total viewers, the show’s best result in four years. What was your game plan going into this year’s show to continue that momentum?
I can’t keep that in my head. All we can do as a company is get the top artists and songs that the public listen to on the radio and buy, book the hell out of them, and make the best show possible. When people ask me who’s on, I say, “Listen to the radio.” It’s the songs you listen to and buy.
Do you have any theories why ratings were up in 2013?
I don’t know why the ratings went up. Of course, we had a great show with Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry and others. But who knows? This year we’re opposite a football game. I have to put all that aside and do the best I possibly can.
This is Pitbull’s second year hosting the AMAs. What’s the story behind him coming on board?
We had Jimmy Kimmel for many years and then we went host-less. Last year we thought, let’s try a host. Pitbull is so energetic; everybody knows Pit and loves him. He’s also a dear friend of mine. So after deciding Pit was the right way to go, I called him and mentioned I wanted him to host the AMAs. His first response was no, because he’d never done anything like this before. I let it go for a few minutes and called again and said, “Listen, I wouldn’t be asking you if it wouldn’t be good for you and me. This is a win-win for both of us.” He said, “OK, papo, let’s do it.” He loved it last year and had a great time doing it. Ratings were terrific and response about Pit was wonderful. When this year came along, there was no discussion about replacing him.
Is Pitbull signed to a multi-year contract to host the AMAs?
No, there’s no contract. If he pisses me off next week I’ll get rid of him [laughs].
The AMAs are sandwiched between the MTV VMAs, the CMAs and the Grammys. What are the challenges of booking performers when you’re competing with those other popular awards shows?
It does get difficult sometimes. Let’s say an artist has one song. That artist doesn’t want to do that one song [on the various awards shows]. And now the country shows like the CMAs and the ACMs cross-pollinate and have contemporary people on stage. Everybody is going for the same people.
Is there a conscious effort to book both newcomer and veteran acts on the AMAs, versus strictly what’s hot right now?
The AMAs is many different genres. I don’t think about the age as much as I do about putting a show together that’s three hours long with hip-hop, pop, rock, country, R&B and all sorts of stuff. I have to worry about the flow of all that music and make it cohesive where it’s not jarring. It’s not an age thing; it’s a music thing.
How often are you changing the script during the broadcast?
We’ll make changes up until show time and then we’ll also make changes within the show. I have flip-flopped performances while we’ve been live on the air because someone might not have been ready or there might have been a snag. The public wouldn’t know that and the people in the room don’t know. Copy will always be changed. With live shows you’ve got to worry about clocks and timing.
Dick Clark Production also produces the Billboard Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. How do you leverage those other programs when booking artists for the AMAs?
Doing these shows gives me a chance to talk to artists. “Hey, by the way, guys, let’s not get into it now but put on your calendar that coming up in May is the Billboard Music Awards.” I don’t sit back and go, “If you don’t do this show you can’t do the other one, or if you do this one I’ll give you that one.” I don’t do those kinds of deals. I just make people aware of what we’re doing.
There are a few changes in categories this year. Artist of the year grows from five to 10 nominees and single of the year grows from three to five. Why were those changes made?
With the singles, you’ve got no choice. We’re back in the singles world, so that was a natural. With Artist of the Year, since we are the biggest fan-based voted awards show around, we felt that this year more than ever there were just too many people.
Music awards shows are typically held in arenas. Why are the AMAs broadcast from Nokia Theater L.A. Live instead larger-sized L.A. venue like Staples Center or The Forum?
I don’t have that answer for you. I’ll bet you that in the next couple of years the AMAs will be in one of those venues. There’s no doubt in my mind.