MIAMI — Clearly, Diddy doesn't like to be upstaged. Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina threatened to pull the plug on his party — the 2005 Video Music Awards — the host with the most stood in the nearly empty American Airlines Arena. Dressed in a gray T-shirt, long shorts and mint Nike low tops, Diddy had a trickle of sweat inching down his forehead and a million-dollar smile creasing his lips. He'd be damned, he said, if any hurricane was going to ruin his awards show, and he seemed determined, come hell or high water, to get the party up and running — by himself, if necessary.
On Friday, while assembled floor directors, camera operators and various pony-tailed dudes with bulky tool belts looked on, Diddy choreographed a cadre of dancers while clutching a wireless mic in one hand and working a Blackberry in the other, with a cell phone tucked between his shoulder and ear for good measure. He was trailed by an army of assistants, clipboard holders and — a truly Diddy touch — a curvaceous cocktail waitress. He was a whirlwind of arms, legs and digital beeps and walkie-talkie crackles. He was Hurricane Diddy, if you will.
"I can't leave, man. I'm the whole show," he spoke into the cell phone. "I'm gonna try to holler at you later, but right now, we got to rehearse because the hurricane pushed everything back. But it's all good, man. We're going to get this up and poppin.' It's going to be hot."
Hot, for sure, but also a bit rushed. Thanks to Katrina, rehearsals for the VMAs had been shoehorned into just two days, and with massive sets to build, smoke machines to set and lighting rigs to cue — not to mention more than a dozen acts to soundcheck — time was tight.
Earlier, Fat Joe, Daddy Yankee and Don Omar flew through a high-speed rehearsal, and R. Kelly brought the house down with a fiery soundcheck. But none of them could match Diddy's energy and enthusiasm.
Minutes after arguing on the phone with his mother ("You got to come down. It's sunny here. I got my feet in the pool right now. The hurricane's almost in Alabama by now."), Diddy took the stage amidst a substantial supporting cast, leading a thunderous performance while skipping up and down the runway and gesturing wildly. And as the song crashed to a climax, he stood defiantly and triumphantly before his audience — a group of about 50 grips and stagehands, plus a wildly applauding Snoop Dogg and a sea of folding chairs holding placards with attending celebrities' faces on them. And then the whole thing was over, and the stage cleared.
That's rehearsals. Quick and a bit panicked but also pretty amazing. And this scenario — awesomely fleeting, awesomely bizarre, awesomely awesome — would play out over and over again for the next 24 hours.
Like early Saturday morning, when Ludacris stood bleary-eyed atop a silver tower before bursting into character for his run-through.
The dancers giggled and rolled their eyes at his antics, while Luda's posse — including Bobby Valentino and Lil' Fate — laughed loudly. Across the arena, Green Day's road crew loaded in their instruments and took a moment to voice their approval, too.
Luda strutted and spit his way through a breakfast-hour performance. At the conclusion of the tune, he nodded and smiled confidently.
"You got to like that," he laughed. "Sexual chocolate."
And as Luda exited — posing for photos and chatting up his dancers — the guys from Green Day were taking the stage, fully coated in mascara and clutching Starbucks coffees. As dry ice curled around them, frontman Billie Joe decided to "warm up" the band with an impromptu version of "Minority," from their Warning album. They kept the jamming going throughout their soundcheck, unfurling a bluesy, roadhouse guitar workout and then riffing their way through Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" before rehearsing what they had planned for the show. Afterward, the tech crew showered them in applause, which Green Day acknowledged with blown kisses.
Fists held aloft, they were hustled off the stage. Time for lunch — followed by an afternoon and evening packed with rehearsals by Kanye West, Kelly Clarkson, 50 Cent and Coldplay. As Saturday rolled on, bands and equipment were hustled on and off stages, lights raised and lowered, camera movements practiced. Katrina was a distant memory, but the full force of Hurricane Diddy had yet to be felt.