When all is said and done, fans watch not to see who's lost or won, but to see who shows up at American Music Awards

January 25, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

If anybody knows awards shows, Dick Clark does.

Clark, after all, has spent years helping to make trophy-giving an industry in itself. Since creating the American Music Awards two decades ago, he has churned out a dizzying array of similarly star-studded bashes, including shows devoted to the Golden Globe Awards, the Daytime Emmy Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards. All told, he has probably contributed more to the tuxedo-rental business than any man in Hollywood.

Even so, Clark's view of these shows isn't quite what the average viewer might expect. Ask him, for instance, if the reason people watch is to see who wins, and he almost laughs.

"No, no," he says, over the phone from his Los Angeles office. "That's the cherry on top of the cake. They tune in to see who's going to be there, what the women are wearing, whether someone will fall down in the middle of a number. It's the same thing as watching the Indianapolis 500. Will there be an accident? Those are the basic reasons."

Tonight's "20th Annual American Music Awards" broadcast (8 p.m. on ABC, carried locally on WJZ-TV, Channel 13) will feature hosts Bobby Brown, Gloria Estefan and Wynonna Judd and performances by Michael Jackson, Michael Bolton, Bon Jovi, Boyz II Men, Billy Ray Cyrus, Vince Gill (in a duet with Reba McEntire), Kris Kross, Metallica and more.

"The overriding thing is that this is a major event," adds Clark. "It's a room full of some of the most famous, prosperous talents in the world of music. They're all there. That's one thing we're very proud of about the American Music Awards. We never run an old piece of concert tape as a fake-out. All those people are going to be there on the stage -- starting with Michael Jackson, performing live.

"That's pretty exciting."

It's also part of the reason why Clark's American Music Awards broadcasts out-rate the Grammy shows year after year. "They don't watch [the Grammy show] because it's primarily an ZTC industry show and terribly complicated, and overly long, and sometimes hard to follow," he says.

"Which is not a criticism. I don't think it can be done any other way. That's the way it is. They have an unwieldy thing to handle -- every facet of the recording business has to be pleased, every little nuance has to be addressed, and it's impossible. You can't put on a three-hour show and do that."

So Clark doesn't even try. From the beginning, his show was designed to cut through the clutter and deliver only the big hits and the best-known stars. For the first show, there were only three categories; these days, the list has expanded to six categories with 25 awards total. By comparison, the Grammy presenters have to sort through 80 awards spread across 30 categories -- no wonder average fans tune out!

Of course, the Grammys really aren't oriented to the average fan. As Clark points out, the Grammy perspective is that of music industry professionals, "who have their own circumstances, agendas and politics. There's nothing wrong with that. It's the same as the Oscars and the Emmys. That's the nature of the beast.

"But prior to the American Music Awards, nobody ever went to the people who bought the darn records, who paid for the concerts, supported the industry, and said, 'What do you think?' "

So that's what Clark did. Using the charts as a guide, his company, dick clark productions, polls a randomly selected group of music fans their favorite singers, groups, albums and singles. There's also room for a write-in vote. "It's only happened once in all 20 years that a write-in won," says Clark. "I can't even remember what it was. I think it was in the country category."

Even though he admits that the voting amounts to little more than "a popularity poll," Clark says that there are always surprises. "We take a little survey backstage of all of the experts who've been doing the show for years and years, and I bet you we're not right 60 percent of the time," he laughs. "There are always surprises. As much as you think you know, you don't."

How so? "There are all sorts of influences when you talk about the general public," he says. "What do they see on television? What's radio talking to them about? What has the newspaper [said] to them recently? Has the person been in the headlines?

"Very often, the public's attention span is shorter than the industry's sales charts. It happened in country a while back. A tremendous upheaval -- after years of old favorites who won over and over and over, all of a sudden, every face was new."

Besides, says Clark, the best reason not to guess is that you can really feel silly if you're wrong.

"My favorite story is several years ago, when Rick Springfield was one of the nominees for Favorite Male Vocalist in the Pop/Rock category," he says. "He told me, 'I've been out on the road, I'm dog tired -- am I going to win?'

"I said, 'I don't know the answers, but you're my friend. Let's look at the possibilities.' So I gazed into my crystal-clear crystal ball, and said, 'You haven't got a shot. Stay home.' He laughed, and he said, 'I'll see you next year.'

"He won. I talked him out of coming, and he won." Clark laughs. "I'll never do that again."

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