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Video Music Awards Sizzling but Shock Free

Holding its festivities for the first time in the city of skin, Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards was sizzling, energetic and colorful – yet tame, by MTV standards.

There were no wardrobe malfunctions (sorry TiVo). Britney didn’t kiss Madonna like last year – or anyone else, for that matter (neither were at the blowout affair).

The most skin shown was from Usher, who preened in front of the camera barechested as simulated raindrops fell on his chiseled body during the opening performance.

Even the Christina Aguilera was classy, dressed sexy yet demurely as she debuted a jazzy number, “Tilt Ya Head” with rapper Nelly. And the sometimes raunchy comedian Dave Chappelle even kept it relatively clean – despite teasing that he wouldn’t.

“It’s the biggest mistake you made since Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl,” he joked, alluding to the MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime flesh show that created a firestorm earlier this year.

There may have been plenty of sex appeal, but little shock appeal on hand, even though MTV was ready, using a several-second tape delay for the first time. (The audio delay, used for years, was in heavy use during the hip-hop medley, which featured Lil Jon, Petey Pablo and Fat Joe.)

Still, MTV provided the already broiling Miami with even more sizzle Sunday night as MTV brought its annual party known to the city for the first time in the awards’ 21-year history.

The change of scenery for the awards, typically held in New York or Los Angeles, helped raise the decadence level at the already raucous, celebrity-soaked affair, held at the downtown AmericanAirlines Arena.

OutKast’s vivid “Hey Ya!” – perhaps best described as the old Ed Sullivan show on acid – won four awards, including video of the year. Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” the most nominated video with six, also won four. The gritty black-and-white “99 Problems,” depicts his own killing as a metaphor for his much-ballyhooed retirement, which has yet to happen.

“I felt like I was trying to push the envelope,” Jay-Z, dressed in a dapper white suit and hat, said as he accepted a moonman for best rap video. “That was my punishment and this is my reward.”

Usher won his first moonman as he took best male video for “Yeah!”

“This is my first time coming up here – let me take my time with this,” a beaming Usher said. “I’m so damned happy right now I don’t wanna leave.”

Later, he took a dig at Justin Timberlake, who has been touted as his rival.

“I guess there ain’t really any competition between me and Justin no more, right?” he said as he picked up his second award of the night for best dance video.

As usual, the awards were an afterthought to explosive performances and surprise cameos.

Alicia Keys gave a dramatic, soulful appearance, of her hit “If I Ain’t Got You,” and was buoyed by Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Moments later, she joined Wonder and Lenny Kravitz as they sang a classic Wonder hit, “Higher Ground.”

The daughters of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and President Bush made an appearance – the Bush daughters on videotape – to urge people to vote. Even the Rev. Al Sharpton made an appearance connected to voting – not for the election, though, but for the viewer’s choice award.

Acclaimed rap newcomer Kanye West staged a dramatic version of “Jesus Walks,” then instead of using a Chaka Khan sample for his hit “Through the Wire,” brought the R&B veteran onstage to sing the real thing.

Perhaps the most surreal, and bizarre, performance came from the Polyphonic Spree, the twenty-something member rock choir that performed in multicolored, choirlike robes. They looked like members of a lost cult from the 1970s.

There was also an appearance by uber-twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Mary Kate, who recently was treated for an eating disorder, alluded to her ordeal before introducing Jessica Simpson.

“Thank you to everyone – you have been very supportive for the last couple of months,” said Mary Kate.

It was one of the few subdued moments during the lavish night.

Usher and Simpson arrived on the red carpet not by car, but by luxury yacht. Simpson, glamorously attired in a white dress with a silver bodice, arrived with husband and “Newlyweds” co-star Nick Lachey in a 68-foot boat.

The biggest entrance, of course, came from P. Diddy. Dressed in a white suit and with a Mohawk haircut, he arrived in a towering yacht along with Ma$e, Naomi Campbell and Bruce Willis.

The scene outside the arena was frenzied before the show. Performers such as Ashlee Simpson and Jadakiss rocked an energetic crowd while stars walked the red carpet, showing off their fashions – or lack thereof. Lil’ Kim looked anything but, as she almost busted out of the skimpy top of her flowing dress.

The awards capped what has already been a weeklong celebration in the city, as celebrities such as P. Diddy, Paris Hilton and R. Kelly held competing star-studded parties leading up to Sunday’s festivities.

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