Nov. 21, 2011 -- Less than two weeks after scoring the top prize at the Country Music Association Awards, Taylor Swift took home the night's biggest honor, artist of the year, at the American Music Awards, which aired live on ABC Sunday night.
The award was Swift's third of the evening -- she had previously won favorite country female artist and favorite country album -- but she appeared shocked when her name was called for the big prize.
"This is the craziest thing that has ever happened to me!" an incredulous Taylor said. "Fans, please never change. I can't believe this is happening to me!" Repeating "Oh my God" numerous times, Taylor thanked her fans profusely, as well as her friend Selena Gomez, whom she called "the little sister that I never had."
Adele was also a three-time winner on Sunday night's telecast, but two of her awards -- favorite adult contemporary artist and favorite pop/rock female artist -- weren't given out on camera. On camera, she won for favorite pop/rock album for her multi-million-selling smash "21", but sadly wasn't able to be there to accept it, since she's recovering from vocal cord surgery.
Nicki Minaj picked up two awards, for favorite rap/hip-hop artist and favorite rap/hip-hop album for Pink Friday, and also had the honor of opening the show. Wearing a curly pink bob, a voluminous green gown and heels so high she could barely walk across the stage, Nicki choked up at her win for favorite rap/hip-hop album.
"This one could actually make me cry," she said. "I can't believe this is happening," telling her fans, "Chase your dreams! I never thought that this would be possible." She added, "Shout-out to all the female rappers, past, present and future!"
Nicki also thanked Taylor Swift, whose viral video of her rapping along to "Super Bass" Nicki credits with making that song a hit. Taylor and Selena Gomez were actually shown in the audience Sunday night rapping along to "Super Bass" as Nicki performed it as part of her opening number.
Other winners included Rihanna and Beyonce -- both of whom accepted their awards via video message, since they weren't there -- plus Lady Antebellum, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars and Hot Chelle Rae, who was named Sprint New Artist of the Year. In addition, Katy Perry was given a special award of achievement for being the first woman ever to score five #1 hits from a single album. The only other artist who had ever done that was Michael Jackson.
However, the American Music Awards was really all about the live performances -- 17 in all, including over half a dozen artist collaborations. In fact, watching it was like attending a concert called "2011: The Year in Pop Music," with nearly every big artist and hit of the year represented.
The closing number was an over-the-top performance by LMFAO, who turned the Nokia L.A. Live Theatre into a giant dance club with a medley of "Party Rock Anthem" and "Sexy and I Know It" that featured guest appearances by Justin Bieber and David Hasselhoff, numerous men ripping off their pants, showers of confetti and a giant inflatable zebra.
Of note, Adam Lambert returned to the AMA stage Sunday night for the first time since his scandalously sexy performance on the show in 2009 caused him to be banned from the network for a brief time. "Has it been two years already? Time flies," he remarked wryly.
American Music Awards Performances
Nicki Minaj and David Guetta opened the show with "Turn Me On," their collaboration on Guetta's current album. For a change, Nicki sang most of the song, only rapping towards the end, and then did a bit of "Super Bass." She was wearing an outfit that made her look like a female robot, and when she "plugged" herself in, laser-created lightning bolts, smoke and pyro exploded across the stage. There were also giant robot men shooting white smoke, and dancers who were all "plugged in" to Nicki via lit-up "extension cords."
Justin Bieber performed his holiday single "Mistletoe" wearing an eighties-inspired white leather suit, surrounded by multicolored horizontal tubes of light.
The Band Perry sang their smash "If I Die Young" very simply, backed by video screens showing pictures of white roses.
Chris Brown, his hair dyed blonde, sang his ballad "All Back" in front of a backup band, holding a mic stand, but when he kicked into his upbeat song "Say It With Me," amazing video effects completely took over the stage and Chris danced up a storm.
Kelly Clarkson completely re-imagined her hit "Mr. Know It All," recasting it as a jazzy, swing-inspired number with a horn section. As she sang, paparazzi dressed like old-time journalists with antique cameras stalked her and snapped her picture, and she was backed by video screens filled with headlines about her -- similar to the song's video.
Enrique Iglesias performed "I Like How It Feels" backed by the Crenshaw High School Choir, was then joined by Ludacris for "Tonight (I'm Lovin' You.)"
Jennifer Lopez began her spot by singing her ballad "Until It Beats No More," then shed a layer of clothing and kicked into "Papi," her song from those Fiat car commercials. In fact, there was even a car on stage with her. Then, she stripped down to a nearly-nude bodysuit with strategically-placed sequins for "On the Floor," for which she was joined by Pitbull. The rapper actually did double duty, later teaming with J-Lo's ex-husband Marc Anthony for their duet, "Rain Over Me."
OneRepublic performed their hit "Good Life" in front of video walls of people and places around the world.
Katy Perry did a stripped-down version of her latest single "The One that Got Away," playing a pink acoustic guitar. She wore a pink, futuristic outfit and her hair was in a sort of pink pompadour that made her look like a refugee from a 1980s New Wave music video.
Mary J. Blige, looking elegant in a white suit, performed her new single "Mr. Wrong," and included a shout-out to the late Heavy D, who recently died at the age of 44. Daughtry sang their new single "Crawling Back to You," while Drake performed his latest, "Headlines."
Maroon 5 teamed with Christina Aguilera for their #1 collaboration "Moves Like Jagger," and then lead singer Adam Levine walked across the stage to join Gym Class Heroes for their duet "Stereo Hearts."
Will.i.am debuted his new single "T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)," which featured Jennifer Lopez singing the hook, and a video assist from Mick Jagger. In an amazing special effect, the Black Eyed Peas frontman performed against a black background in a glow-in-the-dark suit, and appeared headless -- we never saw his face. He was surrounded by colored lights that appeared to jump and dance on their own, and then three other white-suited, apparently-faceless individuals joined him and appeared to "float" in the air.