Chris Brown screamed loudly, Nicki Minaj whipped out her phone to record the moment and Laverne Cox was teary-eyed as Janet Jackson entered the stage at the BET Awards.
The pop star was honored Sunday with the Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual Award as she made one of her first public performances in sometime as she readies a new album and tour this fall.
“It’s been a very long moment to this journey … my heart is so full,” Jackson said onstage, where her mother and father sat next to one another. “To my beautiful mother, to my beautiful father, and to my entire family, your love is unbreakable.”
An impressive Ciara, Jason Derulo and Tinashe paid tribute to the 49-year-old veteran by mimicking her signature dance moves at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
“Twenty five years ago we created `Rhythm Nation,’ hoping the world would be a better place, but today there’s even more to be done,” Jackson said. “And last but not least, my loving husband, and to all the fans. I’ve missed you so much and I love you so much.”
Jackson wasn’t the only show stopper Sunday: Diddy dropped it like it’s hot at the awards show _ figuratively and literally.
The entertainer fell during an exciting performance that celebrated Bad Boy Records’ 20th year anniversary, one of the night’s highlights. Lil Kim, Mase, Faith Evans, 112 and The Lox joined Diddy as they performed a medley of past hits. A video montage of rap king Notorious B.I.G. appeared in the background as his verse from “Mo Money Mo Problems” played.
Brown performed multiple times, and won two honors: best male R&B/pop artist and the fandemonium award.
“A lot has changed in my life, a lot of mistakes, a lot of lessons learned. The best thing I’m most thankful for is my daughter,” he said onstage. “I’m so thankful and happy to have the loyal fans … and everybody here that knows me, to know me is to love me.”
The show Sunday brought a mix of funny and serious moments. Rapping on top of a police car with a large American flag waving behind him, hip-hop prince Kendrick Lamar kicked off the BET Awards with a dose of seriousness, but also brought a fiery energy thanks to his charisma and his song’s beat.
Members in the audience rapped along to “Alright,” while background dancers danced in the aisles and others onstage wore black and waved the American flag behind Lamar. He later won best male hip-hop artist.
“This is for Compton, this is for Watts,” the Los Angeles-born rapper said.
Janelle Monae and Jidenna also brought a serious vibe to the stage when they performed “Classic Man”: The singers and their background dancers wore large “I’m a Classic Man” signs around their necks, a reference to the historic “I Am a Man” civil rights era protest signs.
And as Anthony Hamilton and Gary Clark Jr. performed while photos of celebrities who died appeared on screen, a montage of the nine people who were gunned down a church in Charleston earlier this month closed the performance.
“Black-ish” actors Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross followed Lamar’s performance with a hilarious song poking fun at pop culture, including Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” case, Pharrell’s signature hat and Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.
“Is white really the new black,” Anderson sang as two photos of Dolezal _ one old, the other recent _ appeared on screen.
Anderson also brought on the laughs when he dressed as singer Sam Smith, who won best new artist but didn’t attend the awards show.
Anderson sported a suit similar to Smith’s taste and rocked a wig that mirrored the British singer’s hairstyle.
“Sam Smith isn’t here tonight because he’s White and he didn’t think he would win at the BET Awards,” Anderson said as the audience at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles burst into laughter. “He didn’t think he could win. But we showed him that we love him, too.”
“This award is going to stay with me for you not showing up to BET,” Anderson sang, referencing Smith’s ubiquitous hit, “Stay With Me.”
Rihanna was among the A-listers who sat in the audience, and she sang along during Omarion and Chris Brown’s performance of the pop hit, “Post to Be.” Alicia Keys surprised the audience when she joined The Weeknd to sing his hit, “Earned It.”
Smokey Robinson received the Lifetime Achievement Award, performed a medley of his hits and earned a standing ovation from the audience when he spoke about Hollywood and humility. Ne-Yo, Robin Thicke and rising singer Tori Kelly paid tribute to the icon.
Nicki Minaj, who won her sixth consecutive best female hip-hop artist award, brought her mom onstage. She gave a shout-out to fellow nominee and rising rapper Dej Loaf, as well as her rapper-boyfriend Meek Mill, who sat next to her at the show (and she later joined him onstage for his performance).
“Momma, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you’ve done for me. I love you so much,” she said. “Shout-out to all the girls nominated … Def Loaf … you’ve been very, very interesting to me and super forward.”
Terrence Howard, star of the hit Fox series “Empire,” won the first award for best actor.
“To the Empire!” he yelled three times. “I got to thank Taraji P. Henson because she stood up for a brother.”
Minaj and Brown, who have won a handful of BET Awards over the years, were the top nominees with six each. Brown is nominated twice for video of the year with his hits “Loyal” and “New Flame.” Other nominees for the top prize include Minaj’s eye-popping video for “Anaconda,” Beyonce’s “7/11,” Big Sean’s “IDFWU” and Common and John Legend’s Oscar-winning “Glory,” from the film “Selma.”
The BET Awards is celebrating its 15th year anniversary.