EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — At New York radio station Z100's annual Zootopia mega concert at Giant Stadium on Sunday night, one of R&B's most successful groups ended its performance run, another legendary act kept evading Father Time, a troubled rap superstar received an overwhelming show of love and the American Idols showed their pride.
Along with Z100's regular cast of radio personalities, special guest hosts Britney Spears and Lisa Marie Presley were also on hand to call out acts Ja Rule and Ashanti, Aerosmith, TLC, Simple Plan, Third Blind Eye, Mariah Carey, Daniel Bedingfield, Wayne Wonder, Ginuwine, Tanto Metro & Devante, Bowling for Soup, Jewel and "American Idol" alumni Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. (Click for photos from the show.)
As the sun went down so did the temperatures, but Zootopia retained that summer feeling, with pools and swimmers flanking both sides of the main stage. Meanwhile, a ramp leading from the main stage to a Z-shaped stage in the middle of the audience made for more intimate moments.
If there was any fan backlash against Murder Inc., it wasn't felt Sunday night as the Incsters were showered by adoration by the tens of thousands that flooded the home of the Giants.
"Oh my God, it's bananas out here!" Ashanti, accompanied by Irv Gotti, marveled at the crowd's size and noise level as the frigid Jersey winds swept through the stadium.
"I'm not even cold no more," she continued before getting some assistance from the fans on "Foolish" and closing out with her current single, "Rock Wit U (Aww Baby)."
Murder Inc.'s princess and kingpin left the stage to make way for Ja, who knew even before he hit the stage that he was going to be supported. "All my murderers," he screamed to the fans from behind the deck. They all hollered back with a unified roar.
Building up more anticipation and drama like he does with many of his performances, Rule played "The March Prelude" from his first album, Venni, Vetti, Vecci, before appearing.
"Lord, can we get a break?" his recorded vocals filled the stadium with a melodic echo. "We ain't really happy here/ Take a look into our eyes/ And see pain without fear," his voice boomed out of the speakers until he himself finally reared his towel-and-fitted-cap-covered head.
"Are y'all ready to get this sh-- started?" he asked in a manner that sounded more like a demand than a question. Again, he was answered with unanimous cries of approval.
"OK, then holla!" he told them, before breaking into a medley of "Holla, Holla," "Livin It Up" and "Between Me and You."
Displaying a show of triumph, Ja stood on the lights at the bottom of the Z-shaped stage and basked in the moment. After a performing a snippet of "Put It on Me," he and Gotti, who joined him onstage, had to take a break.
"This is very serious," Rule addressed the crowd, telling them he had to ask a question. "How many ladies in the house got fat asses?"
His booty talk segued into his verse on "Ain't It Funny." "It must be the ass!" he rhymed as the bass kicked in. And even though the windchill factor dropped continually in the stadium, Rule had to take another pause to disrobe.
"I only do this record one way and one way only," he said before going into "I'm Real."
"Now people lovin' me and hatin' me, treating me ungratefully/ But not knowing that they ain't making or breaking me/ My life I live it to the limit and I love it/ Now I can breathe again, baby, now I can breathe again."
To cap his performance, Rule brought out his main leading lady, Ashanti, back onstage for "Always on Time" and "Mesmerize."
"I love y'all muthaf---as," he told the crowd as the Inc left the stage.
Oddly enough, Murder Inc.'s high-energy singing and rapping did not constitute the evening's finale. This year's "American Idol" finalists Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken ended with some lush crooning instead. First Clay came on to perform "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and then introduced fans to the man who beat him out.
"Ruuu, Ruuu," the fans kept screaming, as the up-and-coming superstar stepped out. He serenaded all in attendance with his cover of Luther Vandross' "Superstar." "Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby?" he sang, sounding almost identical to the R&B legend. "You said you'd be back this way again."
He might be new to the industry, but it was clear Studdard already knew the power of promotion as he plugged the first single off his debut, "Flying Without Wings," which should hit the air June 10. Clay came back out to join his friend and end the show with the patriotic tune "Proud to Be an American."
The first person to wear the "American Idol" crown, Kelly Clarkson, also performed. She was introduced by surprise guest announcer Randy Jackson. Jackson, of course, judges "American Idol" along with Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.
"I'm not going to get naked, what is that about?" Clarkson, who performed "Miss Independent" and "Some Kind of Miracle," told a fan who was holding up a sign which said to do so. She later faked like she was going to give in and give the people an eye-full.
But you have to love the "get naked" man's persistence. He struck out with Clarkson, but tried his luck again later in the show with one of the singer's idols, Mariah Carey.
"That's not appropriate," Mariah told the guy, after performing both versions of her hit "Heartbreaker" with Da Brat.
It's not like M.C. wasn't showing skin. The Billboard chart mainstay sported green booty shorts, a matching bra top and a black vest. She even took time out to bring even more attention to her ensemble.
Busta Rhymes immediately drew awareness to himself as he and Spliff Starr made an unadvertised appearance onstage, starting "I Know What You Want."
"Baby if you give it to me/ I'll give it to you/ I know what you want/ You know I got it," he sang. Mariah, who was honored earlier in the night with a Z100 New York Music Award, and her dancers later pranced down to join the Flipmode Squad, which had been entering the stage one by one as each of their verses started. The performance mirrored a club scene as everybody started dancing with each other.
The dancing and rapping of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was honored as TLC took to the stage for what was billed as the group's final performance. The set was introduced by Britney Spears and Carson Daly and started out with a video montage tribute to their deceased third member on giant video screens that hung on the stage.
T-Boz and Chilli were accompanied by four dancers and wore white baggy jumpsuits to jumpstart performances of "Girl Talk" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
Stock video footage of Left Eye performing the same song and wearing the same outfit as her friends played on the screen, making her presence felt even more.
"Baby, Baby, Baby," "Creep" and Unpretty" followed then as Chilli told the crowd, "This is Left Eye's favorite song," before launching into "Waterfalls."
The dancers, who had changed their clothes, began acting out TLC's lyrics and when Left Eye's part came, the original beat of the song changed to 50 Cent's "21 Questions," giving the Lopes verse a fresh spin.
TLC's final song was another one of their blockbuster singles, "No Scrubs," and the grand finale was a dance routine, where they shook their rear ends to the words of man repeating "too much booty in the pants."
"Thank you, we love you!" the women said before exiting. An early TLC picture was displayed on the screen, showing the girls how we all know and love them — together and having fun.
While the era of TLC was ending, Aerosmith's seemed like it would never end. Steven Tyler showed the energy of a teenager, running up and down the stage with his mic still in the stand, singing such hits as "Walk This Way."
Other highlights of the evening included Wayne Wonder, living up to his name, and making the ladies swoon with "No Holding Back," and Simple Plan, who kept many in attendance jumping for almost 15 minutes straight with their set, which included "Addicted."
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.