Backstage At The 2001 Billboard Music Awards

Billboard goes behind the scenes at the 2001 Billboard Music Awards, presented Dec. 4 from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and broadcast live on Fox, to get reactions and the latest news from John Mellenca

Billboard's Gail Mitchell and Melinda Newman go behind-the-scenes at the 2001 Billboard Music Awards, held Dec. 4 at Las Vegas' MGM Grand and broadcast live on Fox. Additional reporting in New York by Rashaun Hall.

John Mellencamp, who was presented with this year's Century Award, Billboard's highest honor for distinguished creative achievement, said he couldn't believe it when he heard he was to receive the award, whose past recipients have included the late George Harrison (1992), Buddy Guy (1993), Joni Mitchell (1995), and James Taylor (1998). "When Tim [White, Billboard editor in chief] called me to tell me, I just thought, 'What?! I shouldn't be getting this. There has to be somebody better than me.' But I'm very happy and pleased. I think it's great company to be in, and I'm very proud to be here."

Mellencamp says he and Stephen King are continuing to work on the stage musical they began collaborating on last year but that their day jobs sometimes get in the way. "I talked to Steve last week, and he's writing two books. I'm out promoting [new album 'Cuttin' Heads'], and sometime this winter we're going to try and finish this thing. It's going great, but we both decided it was going to be a part-time thing."

The evening's big winner, R. Kelly, who snared six trophies -- including R&B/hip-hop artist of the year -- said working behind the camera may be his next career move. Music and videos are "kind of forcing me into film," Kelly said. "In fact, I'm going to Los Angeles to meet with movie people. I know I can direct and score. So hopefully one of those will work for me."

NellyMultiple awards finalist Nelly, who doubled as an award presenter and added his signature rapping style to the telecast's grand finale, "What's Going On," said he was hard at work on his sophomore set, "Nellyville," which is slated for a June 2002 release. "I can't do 'Country Grammar' again," Nelly said, referring to his chart-topping 2000 debut on Fo' Reel/Universal. "You have a lifetime to do your first album and 18 months for your second. It's just a matter of drawing on the talent I have inside."

Among the show's highlights was a medley of Alicia Keys' current single, "A Woman's Worth," and a remix version of Angie Stone's "Brotha," performed by the two singers and Eve. "When I was recording 'Brotha' with Raphael Saadiq and Jake & the Phatman, Alicia hung out with us in the studio," Stone recalled. "Ronnie Isley was also there. We had a ball. Later, Alicia called, saying she had an idea for a remix. She played it over the phone, and I said, 'Let's do it.' And ironically, we both thought of Eve."

"Working with the three of them was off the hook," added Keys, who said she couldn't wait to get onstage to perform the song. "It was a supportive atmosphere with three strong women."

Eve, who's working on her third album and set to make her film debut in an Ice Cube project called "Barbershop" (the MGM film begins shooting in Chicago in January 2002), said her participation in the remix was a no-brainer. "I got the phone call and said, 'Of course, I'll do it.' I knew it would be hot."

Tim McGrawCountry artist Tim McGraw, who took home a fistful of awards -- including country artist of the year and country albums artist of the year -- opted to perform album cut "Angel Boy" on the show instead of his current single, "The Cowboy in Me." With its uptempo, redemptive theme, McGraw said "Angel Boy" just seemed to be the right choice. "It's one of my favorite things on the record and, to me, it's kind of an edgier song," he said. "I like doing it live. I also think it's very applicable to the times we're living in." The song, which appears on McGraw's current Curb album, "Set This Circus Down," was initially pegged for a previous album, "but I got a cold and couldn't finish the vocals, so we waited for this album." No word yet on if it will be released as a single, but McGraw says he filmed a video for the track last spring in Ireland.

Destiny's Child won artist of the year for the second year in a row, as well as snagging four other awards. But the trio is already looking ahead to spring, when it will head to Europe to make up dates postponed following the events of Sept. 11. "Never in Destiny's Child's history will you ever hear about us just canceling a show," the group's Kelly Rowland said. "That's out of the question for us. You won't hear about us canceling a show unless it's like what happened on Sept. 11 or someone is deathly sick. We'll go onstage half-breathing -- that's just us."

Rowland is still reeling from the girls' entry into the toy market with their own line of dolls by Hasbro. "I have a 5-year-old niece, and as she was walking through a toy store, she said, 'Auntie Kelly' when she saw my doll," Rowland said of her plastic counterpart. "It's so weird -- I think about how when I was little, I really wanted a Whitney Houston doll. I use to dress my Barbie doll up as Whitney Houston."

ShaggyA finalist for seven awards and winner of two, reggae artist Shaggy said he can't rest on his laurels, even though his MCA album, "Hotshot," has been certified for sales of more than 6 million units in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). "It's work time all over again. I'm ready again; I'm back in the studio," he says. He's motivated by a newspaper article that called him a novelty act. "I cut it out and framed it and put it up in my house and put it up in the studio," he said. "I'm saying, 'Motherf***er, this is the f***ing motivation right here. I'm going to prove this son of a bitch wrong.'"

Jamie O'Neal, who was named new country artist of the year, said the strangest place she ever heard first single "There Is No Arizona" was in the dentist's office. "I always have the oxygen mask on. You know how it blurs everything and makes everything slow-motion," she said. "When 'Arizona' came on, it sounded really weird, especially the harmonica. You don't want to hear harmonica when you're on nitrous oxide!" The singer, whose first two singles went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, says she thinks "Arizona" was so popular because many women could relate to its themes. "I heard from so many young girls who had been through a heartbreak or had guys who had promised them something and then let them down," she said. O'Neal expects to go back into the studio to record her sophomore Mercury album in the spring.

Sully Erna, frontman for rock artist of the year Godsmack, is hard at work on producing the first act for his new Republic/Universal imprint. Just don't ask him the name of the label or the band. "I was going with Spiral Records, but I just found out I'm not going to be able to use that. The band's name is Powderburnt, but I think they have to change that too," Erna said with a laugh. "I really didn't think about having my own label. I just brought the band to the table that I really wanted to sign and they offered. They said, 'Why don't we start a label with you, and we'll push anything you bring?' Actually, they said, 'We've been waiting three years for you to bring us something.' Erna expects the newly named rock band to make its debut next year.

Bernie MacComedian Bernie Mac wasn't daunted at all by his first-time stint as host of the Billboard Music Awards. "This is right up my alley," the star of the new Fox comedy "The Bernie Mac Show" said during a rehearsal break. Known for his hard-hitting quick wit, the 30-year comedy veteran said his secret to hosting was simple: "Doing what got me here -- being myself. I know my limits. This isn't a club gig or a cable comedy show. I'm not going to tell everybody to kiss my ass. I'll do it with good taste, but still have a taste of Bernie Mac."

In addition to his weekly TV series, the Chicago-based Mac can be seen in director Steven Soderbergh's remake of "Ocean's Eleven." But don't look for the comedian to appear anytime soon in a sequel to "The Original Kings of Comedy," the 2000 Spike Lee film that also starred fellow funny men Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, and Cedric the Entertainer. "For me, it's hit, get out, and make room for someone else," Mac said with a laugh. "Maybe we'll do a reunion a few years from now. But right now I want to move on -- I have a lot more things I want to do."


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