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Keith Sweat

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Ne-Yo: "Lady in My Life." A crowd-pleaser, but anything Ne-Yo did was going to win over the audience, as his career has been a love letter to Michael.

He handled the ballad fine, but Ne-Yo has the power to bring the house down.

Few other young R&B stars could tackle any of Michael's dance numbers with aplomb, but Ne-Yo parked himself on a stool, and went for a tearjerker rather a show stopper.

B-Jamie Foxx & T-Pain & Travis Barker: "Blame It." An already cluttered song, marked by its artless Auto-Tune vocals, became even more cluttered when Blink-182's Travis Barker arrived to hammer away in the song's final few moments.

Foxx was better when he referenced "Beat It" in the show's opener.

DSoulja Boy Tell'em: "Turn My Swag On." Hmmm, so much for the BET Awards being completely retooled for a Jackson tribute.

Here we get Soulja Boy singing his latest ring tone.

"Yeah, I'm getting money," he bounced and hollered, seemingly mocking us all for making him a star.

DBeyoncé: "Ave Maria" and� "Angel."� Looking classy in a thin white dress.



A few seconds in we see Beyoncé is wearing basically a slip with a see-through white robe, which a wind machine is doing its best to strip her of.

It's a pretty enough song, if this were a Christmas tree lighting.

It switches midway to Sarah McLachlan's "Angel," but the real entertainment at that point was watching a crew of dancing sprites throw a makeshift dress on Beyoncé.

B-Mary Mary: "God in Me." Foxx introduces Mary Mary as "the new Queens of Gospel," but they sound an awful lot like standard run-of-the-mill queens of R&B.

With a skittering electronic beat, it's mid-tempo R&B with a smattering of hip-hop.

A midpoint appearance from Queen Latifah picks things up, but not by much.

CNe-Yo with Jamie Foxx and Fabulous: "She Got Her Own." OK, so the Associated Press noted that these awards may run 30 minutes longer with added Michael Jackson tributes, but how about they just trim the repeat performances from Ne-Yo and Foxx, especially the mid-tempo numbers? Nice to pull out a live version of a remix, but things are definitely slowing down.

D+BET flashback moment: Keith Sweat's "I Want Her," Guy's "I Like" and Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison." Losing the room.

What's the excuse for this medley? Do all these artists have greatest hits albums coming out? A couple minutes of some old hits, but this is offensive awards-show padding at this point.

DCiara: "Heal the World." Sporting a Michael-inspired jacket, complete with tassels, Ciara was sublimely sweet in her take on the Michael classic.

Clean, simple, restrained and a bit too short even.

BKeyshia Cole and� Monica: "Trust." A small stairway materialized on the BET stage to add a bit of choreography for the R&B ballad.

Monica looked tough in black, almost as if she were ready to jump on a motorcycle.

Cole was all hot pink, and the pair tossed verses back and forth, selling a relationship anthem for those skeptical of relationships.

BJay-Z: "D.O.A." A take-down of Auto-Tone, this song is pure nonsense -- a manufactured attack on a recording device that manipulates vocals.

But it's working, as Jay-Z is getting the headlines, and even when he has nothing to say he's a more demanding performer than most.

Additionally, the dripping sax and alarming guitar notes at least make Jay-Z's Auto-Tune attack feel important.

B+Tevin Campbell, Trey Songz, Tyrese and Johnny Gill: A tribute to the O'Jays with "Forever Mine," "Back Stabbers," "Stairway to Heaven." Introduced by "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius, who credited the O'Jays as "the soundtrack of the black experience," there was nothing wrong with this homage.

Seeing Campbell surprised the crowd, and he sounded strong.

But the real treat was Cornelius, who chatted off-prompter for five minutes introducing the O'Jays, and telling stories about having to wake them up at their hotel room to get them on "Soul Train." BThe O'Jays: "Let Me Make Love To You," "For the Love of Money" and "Used Ta Be My Girl."� Whew — this is a lengthy segment for the O'Jays.

In fact, the O'Jays' music has probably now gotten as much screen time as all of the various Michael nods.

But the positive grade for the above medley was given a bit too soon, as that was pure vanilla compared to the lengthy three-song run-down, in which the O'Jays were all suave and class, and even brought a bit of grit.

AMaxwell: "Pretty Wings." Eloquently introduced by Foxx, who said the first time he heard Maxwell he almost had himself in a "Prop 8 situation," the silky R&B veteran performed his new single, the elegant, late-night, slow-groove of "Pretty Wings." Feathers draped the crowd, and a sax helped the song reach its swoon.

Now at almost three and a half hours long, the BET Awards are feeling awfully bloated, but Maxwell surely calmed the nerves of anyone who was getting impatient.

A--- Todd MartensPhoto: WireImage
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