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Billboard Music Awards promises Michael Jackson surprise

So with all the awards shows out there, how do you make yours stand out?

You can always bring back Michael Jackson.

Seeing the late superstar “like you’ve never seen him before,” as promotional materials for the Billboard Music Awards promise, is a novel addition to a roster of still-living stars such as Lorde, Luke Bryan, Miley Cyrus and Las Vegas’ own Imagine Dragons.

The Michael Jackson surprise, developed through his estate and timed to this week’s release of a new album, “Xscape,” is something that has “never, ever been done before at any time on any level,” promises producer Larry Klein of Dick Clark Productions.

Klein was sworn to secrecy on technical details. But he says it will go beyond a visual effect in Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson One” that represents one way — perhaps not the only way — of bringing the Gloved One back to a stage. “It’s one of the most mind-boggling things you’ve ever seen,” he promises.

Sunday’s three-hour ABC broadcast from the MGM Grand Garden is the fourth year the Billboard awards have been back, and back in Las Vegas. The broadcast starts at 5 p.m. for the live audience but will be shown on a delay at 8 p.m. on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

Among the promised highlights:

■ Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez performing the official World Cup anthem “We Are One (Ole, Ola).” Lopez also is receiving this year’s Icon award.

■ Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert singing for the first time on television their new duet “Somethin’ Bad” (The song is on Lambert’s June 3 album release “Platinum”).

■ Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea teaming up for their hit single “Problem.”

■ The U.S. debut of Australian pop-punk buzz band 5 Seconds of Summer.

■ Katy Perry singing her single “Birthday” for what she says will be the only time on television.

“I like when we get the ‘only’ of something,” says Klein, a veteran producer of the American Music Awards and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, who is at the helm of the Billboard awards for the first time this year.

The Billboards were an annual Las Vegas event for 10 years, from 1996 to 2006. But the license for the name of the magazine — whose charts are the bible of the music industry — changed hands, and declining TV ratings prompted the new owners to pull the TV show for what turned out to be a long break.

The show returned in 2011, switching from Fox to ABC with a 20 percent ratings improvement. Last year’s ratings climbed to a peak 9.47 million, compared with 7.9 million viewers upon its 2011 return.

Sunday is the first show with Dick Clark Productions helming the broadcast, now that both Clark and Billboard magazine are under the corporate umbrella of the same owner, Guggenheim Partners.

The new producer’s range of industry contacts may help keep A-list stars involved and avoid a 2012 ratings dip. That year, aka “The Year of Adele,” was conspicuous in the star’s absence, while novelty pop duo LMFAO — who did find their way to Las Vegas — took home six of the awards.

“There are only ‘X’ amount of people and everyone wants basically the same names (for the different awards shows),” Klein says. Even after 41 years with Dick Clark Productions, “Please don’t think just because of all these contacts I have, that I just make a phone call. It doesn’t work like that.”

The Billboard awards used to fuel December holiday buying when most of the artists had finished their year’s touring. Now they help the stars promote their summer tours, but many of them have conflicts or have to fly in between tour stops.

Klein says one reason awards shows are so popular across the board is that they are substantially better than they used to be.

In the ’70s and ’80s, he says, maybe eight performances fell between presentations and acceptance speeches. Now, a three-hour broadcast will have between 17 and 22 performances.

“I’m keeping the awards short, I’m keeping the copy short. This is going to be wall-to-wall music,” Klein says. Earlier this week, the producers had not even named hosts for Sunday.

Moreover, each performance now comes with its own production design, compared with the days of everyone playing on a universal set.

“I believe we were the first ones ever to give each artist their own environment,” he says. “If I have 20 artists on the show you’re going to see 20 entirely different looks and environments.

“It’s amazing what you can do nowadays that you couldn’t do before,” he adds.

Including, apparently, the ability to raise the dead.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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