We see it every year, the backstage area of the MTV Video Music Awards just brings it out of people. They're free, friendly and ready to explore. It's the only place in the world where you'll see Will Smith chilling with Suge Knight and singing to Queen Latifah, Xzibit admitting he dances in his boxer shorts to the tune of another man's song, Lil Jon making a bid to become an honorary member of the Simpson family with Jessica's big poppa, and Bruce Willis leaning back with P. Diddy.
While Jennifer Lopez kicked things off onstage (see "Outkast, Jay-Z Win Big At VMAs; Usher, No Doubt Land Multiple Moonmen"), hubby Marc Anthony was acting as a one-man Miami welcoming committee, greeting the likes of Good Charlotte and chatting up LL Cool J before heading back to his dressing room. The Reverend Al Sharpton probably could've used Anthony's help to get backstage — seems he misplaced his backstage pass and was left wandering the hallways looking for another way to gain entrance.
Marilyn Manson wasn't in Sharpton's shoes. By the time the VMAs were on the air, the shock-rocker was already cozied up to the backstage bar, surveying the scene with his manager by his side. When he spied Shaquille O'Neal across the room, Manson hurried over to meet the big man.
At the sushi buffet in the backstage lounge, a woman bet Will Smith $1 that he couldn't eat a large chunk of wasabi. After tasting just a dab of the sharp green stuff, Smith backed out. He did manage to pay his respects to some hip-hop royalty, though, serenading Queen Latifah with a loud "Hail to the Queen!" chant as she entered the room.
Lil Jon — royalty of the crunk variety — was holding court by the side of the performance stage. Jon and the East Side Boyz took turns admiring Petey Pablo's pinky pendant while East Sider Big Sam took sips of crunk juice from a small gasoline canister. The crew was joined by Vivica A. Fox, who broke into an impromptu dance and ordered the entire group to "Drop it like it's hot."
Before she took the stage with Kanye West, Chaka Khan was holding court of her own in the VMA green room. Surrounded by a large entourage that combed her hair and dabbed on makeup, the diva fanned herself and sang the chorus of her hit "Through the Fire" out loud. Khan's posse was so large that No Doubt didn't even notice her until they were a few feet away, being hustled to their seats. The bandmembers shot each other startled looks and stared at Khan in awe.
Christina Aguilera did some startling too. As she warmed up her pipes, the power of her vocal exercises caused people standing outside her dressing room to jump. Her performance partner Nelly lounged nearby, trying to decide which afterparties to attend. After they finished their duet, fellow St. Lunatic Murphy Lee congratulated them, yelling, "That sh-- was hot!" And minutes before he bounded through the audience in a giant bubble, the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne gave Jet hearty congratulations for their Best Rock Video win. Probably still buzzed from the victory, Jet's Chris Cester approached Xzibit and said, "You can pimp my ride anytime!"
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"Anytime, man," X-to-the-Z replied. "I dance around in my boxer shorts to your sh-- all the time!"
Newly Mohawked P. Diddy relaxed in the artists lounge after dancing to the Terror Squad's performance of "Lean Back." He was joined at the bar by dance partner and posse-mate Bruce Willis, and Willis congratulated Diddy for persuading him to dance, commenting loudly, "Hey! He got the old guy out there!" Later, in a meeting of moguls, Diddy huddled with fellow hip-hop impresarios Jimmy Henchman, Shakim Compere and Lance "Un" Rivera. Nearby, Jay-Z pressed more flesh than a presidential candidate.
Odd couple Lil Jon and Joe Simpson (Jessica and Ashlee's dad) hit it off so well that Jon hooked Simpson up with an honorary pimp cup and the two exchanged phone numbers. Another odd pairing, Mandy Moore and Marilyn Manson, strolled down a hallway chatting cordially, and Manson checked his 'do in Moore's compact mirror before giving daps to the seemingly ubiquitous Jon. And while the Beastie Boys did share stage time with Sasquatch, they were hoping for bigger and better things — seems they had wanted to walk the red carpet with a real live alligator, but the city of Miami shot the idea down.
As all 24 members of the Polyphonic Spree assembled to take the stage, lead singer Tim DeLaughter was getting fitted for his harness to aid in his levitation. Underneath DeLaughther's robe? Some red jean shorts and a bulky knee brace. Farnsworth Bentley and Big Boi looked slightly dazed as they wandered amongst the various Spree members in the hallway. And nearby, Boi's Outkast partner, Andre 3000, popped out of a dressing room and began prepping for their performance. Much to the delight of the many ladies in the hallway, he began doing stretches — shirtless.
Bentley and his ever-present parasol cornered producer Jazze Pha, revealing his plans for world domination. "I'm done with all this background dancing," Bentley said. "From now on, it's all front-ground dancing!" Nearby, Nick Lachey and Paris Hilton were spotted wandering off somewhere ... probably not what you think, since they were mobbed with handlers.
But Lachey and Hilton weren't the only stars making a break for it. The pilgrimage to party land had begun. Despite the fact that she was in super-high heels, Beyoncé managed to make a quick exit from the ceremony. P. Diddy and Bruce Willis left the event just as they arrived, together. Xzibit took off with D12. Nelly — glass of cognac in hand — attempted a hasty exit but was caught at the door by MTV's Sway.
And in the final show-stopping moment of the night, Jay-Z brought the exiting crowd to a standstill as he posed for pictures with fans and shook hands with celebs he hadn't met yet, like Good Charlotte's Benji Madden. And with a farewell wave to screaming fans along the red carpet, Jigga was off into the night.
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.