UNIVERSAL CITY, California — In a night dedicated to reality TV and Jessica Simpson's bowel movements, among other zany, year-end pop-culture tributes, it was a timeless, world-class a cappella performance by the venerable Al Green that gave everyone goose bumps at VH1's Big in 03 Awards.
As Green's "Let's Stay Together" filled the Universal Amphitheatre Thursday, presenters Katie Holmes and Bernie Mac began a waltz that inspired fans of even "The OC" to grab a partner and sway. Just minutes later, they'd be da-donk-da-donk-ing to Outkast's Andre 3000, who gave one of the year's most captivating — and most Pepto Bismol pink — live performances, with "Hey Ya!"
Airing November 30, the show that is a hodgepodge of music, movies, TV and politics doled out shiny trophies for offbeat honors such as Biggest Gay Hero and the Big Quote of 2003, which went to famed President Bush bad-mouther Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.
"There's an old Texas expression," Maines said, accepting her award from Bill Maher. "If you don't have anything nice to say, go to London and say it in front of 2,000 people."
When speeches turned to war and politics, hosts Aisha Tyler and D.L. Hughley kept things chill by playing dress-up, both together and with others in attendance. At one point, Tyler, armed with a cell phone and a pink velour suit, and Tracy Morgan, clad in Red Sox gear, gave an "SNL"-worthy impression of Ben and J. Lo.
Earlier, on the anti-red carpet — it was powder blue — Morgan grew serious when talking about the recent molestation allegations against Michael Jackson.
"It makes me sad," he said. "I grew up with Michael's songs. I pray for him. I pray for everybody."
The blue-carpet buzz was also on Beyoncé, who arrived late from the Vibe Awards, held the same night, to claim the Big Entertainer of 2003 award; and no-show Hilton sister, Paris, and her recently uncovered sex tape. "Things could be better," said her sister, Nicky, wearing a fresh Australian tan and a white, down-to-there gown. "Paris is at home. With Tinkerbell [her diamond-studded Chihuahua]."
For a show centered loosely around trucker hats and guilty pleasures — like fantasizing about the Olsen twins — the music was seriously heavy. Opener Kid Rock, accompanied by arm candy Pamela Anderson, gave an explosive rendition of his current single, a cover of Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love," swinging his stringy hair about and clawing at his plugged-in acoustic guitar.
Mid-show, Matchbox Twenty, taking a break from their More Than You Think You Are tour, received a standing O for a spine-tingling version of their hit single, "Bright Lights," which owed its rich sound to a full orchestra, frontman Rob Thomas' finger-slamming piano licks and guitarist Adam Gaynor's whacked-out chord progressions.
Perhaps nothing defines the year in pop culture better, though, than farm boy/ "Punk'd" host Ashton Kutcher receiving the award for Big Stylin' from his co-rat-packer P. Diddy. Well, either that or Hilary Duff, after beating out 50 Cent for the year's Biggest Breakthrough, eating nachos out of her trophy. Your pick.