Michael Jackson popped out of giant Etch-A-Sketch during 'N Sync's performance as the ever unpredictable MTV Video Music Awards took over the Metropolitan Opera House.
The self-proclaimed King of Pop earned a standing ovation from the crowd after offering up some of his classic dance moves. He'll be joined by many of the stars on hand, including 'N Sync, at his tribute concerts this weekend in Manhattan.
Earlier in the broadcast, Saturday Night Live's Will Ferrell climbed the scaffolds onstage. In a nod to last year's incident when a member of Rage Against the Machine surprisingly scaled the stage, Ferrell ran up in a Skid Row T-shirt shouting "I am raging, screw this show!" He was apparantly protesting the first award. The now-touring Backstreet Boys announced the Best Hip-Hop Video winner as Outkast for "Ms. Jackson."
Fatboy Slim started out as the top contender with nine nominations, picking up several early awards including Best Direction for Spike Jonze.
First time host Jamie Foxx warmed up the audience by taking his turn as a singer. The TV and film star offered an operatic version of songs by Limp Bizkit, Britney Spears and others. The celebrity crowd included Snoop Dogg, P.Diddy, Christopher Walken, Spears and boyfriend Justin Timberlake who were seated together.
Foxx's singing was soon rivaled by a white skirt wearing Jennifer Lopez. She performed a medley of her hits, including a duet with Ja Rule of "I'm Ready."
The performances were halted a half hour into the broadcast for an emotional tribute to 22-year-old R&B star Aaliyah who was recently killed in a plane crash. Janet Jackson and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and Aaliyah's brother, aspiring filmmaker Rashad Haughton, spoke about her short but successful life. "On behalf of my family I want to thank her friends and her adoring fans who supported her throughout her career," said Haughton.
He ended his comments, saying "We love you, I love you," while looking upward.
Don't Forget the Moon Man …
Chart toppers 'N Sync and Destiny's Child are among the contenders for multiple awards, although many of the leading videos were achieved through collaborations.
Camera-shy electronic artist Fatboy Slim decided to leave the video performance to Christopher Walken. The result: A surprisingly graceful Walken dancing through a hotel lobby helped "Weapon of Choice" receive a leading nine nominations, including Video of the Year.
For some females, teaming up also created eye-catching clips.
Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, Pink and Elliott compete for six awards including Video of the Year for the saucy "Lady Marmalade" remake on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.
Controversial rapper Eminem, who has drawn protests at other awards shows for his violent lyrics, is also competing for the top award. His tale of an obsessed fan, "Stan," features vocals from Dido's whispy "Thank You." Both hits are up for six awards.
Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" completes the top category with veterans Janet Jackson and U2, who this year proved they remain among the best in the business.
Rising stars hoping for the title of Best New Artist feature a range of musical styles. The soulful Alicia Keys is among the most commercially successful in the bunch. She's nominated with the pop punk group Sum 41, moody rockers Coldplay, singer Nikka Costa and guitarist David Gray.
Keys and Gray are also noticed in the newly minted MTV2 category, profiling videos that gained a following on the second branch of the cable channel, which sticks to the network's original mission of just playing videos.
ABCNEWS Radio's Heidi Oringer, David Blaustein and Andrea Dresdale contributed to this report.