Jamie Foxx opened Sunday’s BET Awards by informing the audience that he wasn’t there to host the cable network’s annual awards show. He was there, he said, to celebrate.
And in a sense that was true enough: A scene-stealer nonpareil, the actor and singer was onstage to celebrate — his gig as host of the BET Awards.
Rarely has a celebrity tasked with moving along a televised awards show taken as much pleasure in the job as Foxx appeared to during this three-hour special broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
He did a long comedic bit expertly impersonating both parties in the show-business beef between Oprah Winfrey and Mo’Nique. He revived one of his old characters from “In Living Color” in a trailer for a spoof “Black Panther” sequel.
He even brought Donald Glover onstage for an evidently impromptu performance of Glover’s politically charged Childish Gambino hit “This Is America.”
“I really was not expecting to be up here,” Glover told the crowd, which seemed only to delight Foxx more.
The host’s high visibility was all the more remarkable given that some observers had questioned Foxx’s participation this month after a woman accused him of sexual assault — a charge clearly at odds with the reputation the BETs have established in recent years as a locus of progressive politics. (Foxx has denied that he assaulted anyone.)
But in a year when some of the biggest stars in hip-hop and R&B didn’t make the show — no Beyoncé, no Jay-Z, no Drake, no Cardi B — perhaps BET knew its flagship event would need a shot (or eight) of Foxx’s energy.
Indeed, the host spent the early portion of the program cajoling audience members to respond more enthusiastically to so-so performances by Miguel and the inescapable Atlanta rap trio Migos, whose members mumbled through their song “Walk It Talk It” like they hadn’t had a day off in four years. (That seems about right.)
Yet things picked up as the show went on.
There was an elaborate rendition, complete with guys dressed as horse-racing jockeys, of “Big Bank” by YG, Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz and Big Sean; there was an impressive showcase for the upstart R&B singer H.E.R. that climaxed in a tender cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Nothing Even Matters.”
And fortunately there were several minutes of Janelle Monáe, who in one of the night’s more topical appearances did a powerful medley of tunes from her “Dirty Computer” album about the need to expand the way we think about gender and sexuality.
Speaking of which, Foxx turned up again in a surprise role to pay tribute to the evening’s lifetime-achievement honoree, Anita Baker, flexing his falsetto to sing excerpts from a few of Baker’s beloved quiet-storm R&B tunes.
Still, he didn’t try to carry the thing by himself.
“I need some ladies to do this with me,” he admitted, then brought out Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi and Yolanda Adams to honor the veteran vocalist who sat in her front-row seat wearing a priceless expression of righteous satisfaction. (Other award winners included Migos for group, SZA for best new artist and “Black Panther” for movie.)
Sunday’s show ended with a rowdy and joyful performance by Snoop Dogg, who might be the only entertainer in the world capable of segueing from the gangsta-rap classic “The Next Episode” to a cut from a moving gospel album he recently released.
It certainly seemed to get to Foxx.
After thanking folks for watching — though not before plugging his current stand-up show — the host called his children onstage and had one of them recite the books of the bible in order.
Then he promised the afterparty was due to start soon.