It's a funny old world. A week ago, I was standing on top of the Acropolis in all its ancient stillness, no sound in my ears but the howl of the Attic winds. And here I was a week later, in a hall built for basketball, swamped by the sound of small children screaming over teenage pop stars on the occasion of the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards 2008 on Saturday evening. In more ways than one, that was profoundly Then, and this was inescapably Now.
These were the 21st annual Kids' Choice Awards, and I must admit I had not really paid attention to the previous 20, except to notice, from press releases, that famous people seemed to show up for them.
My chaperons, nieces Azalea, 11, and Kate, 8, had paid even less attention, as it turned out -- not only to the awards but also to the culture they celebrate. But this made them the exception among their peers, or at least that segment present in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Although not all the stars got equal love, some being so Old School as to predate the phrase "Old School" -- next to "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" star Devon Werkheiser, presenter Jennifer Love Hewitt bizarrely represented an older generation -- the sound the crowd made at any glimpse or even mention of their idols was the same the Beatles heard at the Hollywood Bowl, if probably a little higher-pitched.
The biggest screams were for Miley Cyrus, who got famous as Hannah Montana and performed energetically on the show, and the also-musical Jonas Brothers -- both affiliated with the rival Disney Channel, ironically enough -- though Nick's Drake Bell and Josh Peck of "Drake & Josh" also got a lot of love. Unlike, say, the Oscars, the audience reaction is an infallible indicator of the winner; whatever nominee was screamed for loudest also won. (Nickelodeon viewers cast more than 88 million votes this year, the network says.)
In a world where children have become an accepted target market -- indeed, a whole range of target markets -- it's not strange that they should have their own awards show. (One might say it's only fair, although of course, it is also another instance of their being marketed to, which hardly seems fair at all.) And it's fitting that Nickelodeon should be the one to create it, being the first full-service youth network, and often the finest -- the brand that brought the world "Rugrats," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Clarissa Explains It All" and "The Adventures of Pete & Pete," which I sometimes think might be the best show ever on television.
Presenters included Hayden Panettiere, America Ferrara, Janet Jackson and Ashton Kutcher, and the scripted banter was as limp as it is at most awards shows. Still, as these things go, I'll take the noisy, messy and at times something close to joyful KCAs over their more illustrious and respectable Uncle Oscars or Aunt Emmys or even spry old Grammys. (Nickelodeon is a place "where we always think free," declared announcer Tom Kenny, also the voice of SpongeBob.) Big-kid host Jack Black was in his element, reliably restoring flagging energy and promising "the slimiest, starriest, choicey-ist awards show ever." "Slimiest" refers to the green goo that is sprayed or poured on guests throughout the show, a Nick signature.
Find the names
The awards actually given out during the broadcast seem to be determined by which winners will show up to receive them. This is not a PricewaterhouseCoopers affair: The names are variously printed on balloons, hidden in a pinata and written on Steve Carrell's underpants. (These were removed and displayed by Amy Poehler, who not coincidentally has a new Nick cartoon, "The Mighty B!," coming on at the end of April.) Unlike the grown-up awards shows, there was relatively little thanking of lawyers and managers and God (although Cyrus did mention "my lord and savior, Jesus Christ"). Some winners seemed not to have thought at all about what to say, and, except for Wannabe Award winner Cameron Diaz -- the KCA equivalent of the Oscars' Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award -- short and sweet was the order of the day. Jason Lee, picking up an award for "Alvin and the Chipmunks": "Kids, thank you very much; I love you very much."
The Kids' Choice Awards are also set apart by having a kind of narrative through-line, here concerning the return of Black as host, after being replaced last year by Justin Timberlake, and his spiritual quest to "be the slime"; Black's fight and reconciliation with the Rocktopus (a creature you may accurately imagine from its name); and the attempt to set a record for celebrity sliming, the amount of slime to be determined by a series of challenges shown in taped segments hosted by Laila Ali. These included Heidi Klum as a "human dart," with spikes strapped to her rear, swinging through the air at a giant dartboard covered with slime-filled sacks.
Britney Spears was rumored beforehand to be the surprise subject of this ultimate sliming, which would have propelled the show into strange territory indeed. In the end, it was uncontroversial, amiable Orlando Bloom who claimed the honor, alongside Black, of being doused with "27 tons" of slime, declaring that this was the very reason he became an actor. I was ready to believe him -- but that was no 27 tons.