"Awards shows have to be of the moment now," says Dick Clark, a shoo-in for a lifetime achievement award if they ever had an awards show for awards shows. "Awards shows are the variety shows now because there are no more variety shows."
Clark's 31st annual American Music Awards air on ABC Sunday night, and although the early years of the show may have been like yearbooks reflecting on the previous year's hits, this new edition is very much November 2004 in its staging, with Gwen Stefani making her national television debut as a solo performer, and cast members of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" among presenters.
There is some of the strange award-show time warp in the nominees, though. Take nominees for artist of the year, which include Evanescence and OutKast -- really, it only feels as if those albums came out three years ago -- up against Norah Jones, Kenny Chesney and Usher.
The American Music Awards show no longer pulls in Grammy-sized ratings, but the holiday sales season is looming. That means wall-to-wall performances, because stage time boosts album sales more than trophies. There will be duets -- Usher and Alicia Keys, Chesney and Uncle Kracker -- plus Josh Groban, Lenny Kravitz, John Mayer, Pharrell, Jessica Simpson, Snoop Dogg, Rod Stewart and others.
"It's all very, very current this year," Clark said, "which is wonderful but it may be a little shocking for the older viewers."
There is some familiar ground for more mature pop fans, however. The show will feature a 1964 medley performance by the Beatles, culled from a British TV show that was aired once in America and then "lost in a trunk somewhere for 40 years," Clark said. "It's the water-cooler conversation for the next day."
It's also amazingly current for a vintage artifact -- Capitol Records on Nov. 16 releases a four-CD set of the Fab Four's original American releases, titled "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1."
-- Geoff Boucher