Hot Sounds, Hot Rides Rock Miami At VMA Kickoff Jam

Event featured music by Mario Winans and Carl Thomas; tricked-out cars by Ludacris, Good Charlotte, G-Unit and others.

MIAMI — What better way to show that the MTV Video Music Awards are in town than to have the Moonman reimagined, Miami-style?

Guests at the VMA Kickoff Jam, a free outdoor concert at Margaret Pace Park featuring co-headliners Carl Thomas and Mario Winans, were greeted by a 30-foot-tall astronaut made, in honor of Miami’s reputation for cars with boomin’ sound systems, out of car parts.

Local artist Robert Chambers fashioned the sides of the space helmet out of car rims (embellished with cutouts of dollar signs and hundred-dollar bills), while the front was made out of a car’s back windshield, complete with a wiper, that opened and closed. The gloves and boots of the space suit were illuminated by brake lights, and the body of the suit had two pink, neon-outlined “buttons” made out of stereo speakers; below it was a hatch that opened to reveal a complete sound system. The Moonman had a belt made out of a car’s grill that was decorated with mufflers, and a tailpipe that stretched up his back and blew out smoke. And even though it strayed from the car theme, the Moonman’s MTV flag was pure MIA: neon-pink and blue.

Quduus from “TRL” introduced Carl Thomas and Mario Winans, who performed short four-song sets.

Thomas came dressed for the occasion in a cream suit with an unbuttoned pink-and-purple-striped shirt underneath. He opened with “Emotional,” took quick a breather to dedicate the next song to the ladies, and then launched into “Make it Alright.”

Before he performed “Summer Rain,” Thomas said that his next number was his mother’s favorite song, so it means a lot to him as well. Then, he opened up a bit: “I’m usually not the type of person to air insecurity,” he said. “I’m more guarded with matters of the heart, but the one time I had a chance to [share my feelings], I wrote a song.” And just before he performed his hit “I Wish,” he said with a laugh, “I’ve been surprised at how many people have been in love with someone trifling before.”

Then Mario Winans took the stage, dressed casually in jeans, a black short-sleeved shirt, sunglasses and a big cross necklace. He opened with a solo version of “I Need a Girl (Part 2)” and then moved into “This Is the Thanks I Get” before announcing that his next song, “Never Really Was,” would be his new single. Finally, Winans asked, “How many of y’all just don’t really want to know?” as the opening bars of “I Don’t Wanna Know” played behind him.

Besides the performances, there were plenty of other attractions to keep the crowd occupied, like free sno-cones, cotton candy and Burger King’s Whopper Mountain, an inflated, climbable hamburger.

Lining the perimeter of the park were tricked-out cars designed by Ludacris, Chingy, Good Charlotte, Bam Margera, G-Unit and Xzibit.

They were all Saturns — either Vues or Ions — and, in addition to the customization, all were decorated with Moonmen. The cars also boasted 15-inch flip-down LCD screens and, with the exception of Ludacris’, two others in the headrests of the front seats. (Cris’ only had one because the passenger seat of the car was removed, but more on that in a minute.)

Ludacris’ ride came with an Xbox, a public-address system, a neon-orange dashboard, back seats and floor mats covered with what was called “polar-bear fur” (it was actually faux), and, as mentioned above, the front seat removed to make room for a cooler.

Chingy’s car had yellow-and-red flames along the sides and his name in “Superfly” script. Inside, there was a yellow shag carpet, satellite radio, a PlayStation 2 and 12-inch subwoofers.

Bam Margera’s Viva La Bam-mobile was a silver Ion with hot-pink accents like a skateboard spoiler and a symbol that combined a heart with a pentacle on the hood. Inside, there was satellite radio, a stick-shift handle made out of skateboard wheels, and, more esoterically, a fake bat (hanging upside-down) connected to a strobe light.

G-Unit’s ride was the most pared-down of the lot. The black Vue was hooked up with both an XBox and PlayStation 2, while the same car interpreted by Xzibit had a big silver “X” on the side, crocodile-print leather seats and four 12-inch speakers.

Finally, Good Charlotte’s silver Vue had bright-green accents, the group’s brass-knuckles insignia on the side of the car and the title of their forthcoming album, “The Chronicles of Life and Death,” painted on the back window. The interior was outfitted with an XBox, an additional LCD screen in the dashboard and a complete digital mobile recording studio.

Other acts at the jam were Missy Elliott’s protégé Lil’ Briana, decked from head to toe in Chanel (white logo pants, a black harness, white-fishnet fingerless gloves and goggles on her head). She also sported a big, bedazzled belt that read CandyGirl, after her collaboration with Trina, “Kandi.”

Also on hand were Spanish rock band Clave, a Spanish-speaking reggaeton group 90 Millas, salsa ensemble Sonora Carruseles, reggae band Morgan Heritage and reggae singer Tanya Stephens, who offered the most thought-provoking advice of the night: “Girls, if you cheat on your man, make sure to cheat on him with a guy that looks like your man, so if you get pregnant, at least your child can have a comfortable life.”

Catch all the sizzlin’, star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News’ preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.

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