Usher virtually hijacked the Billboard magazine music awards last night, winning a whopping eleven gongs - including artist of the year. He'd been nominated for thirteen. The 26-year-old singer opened the show by dropping from the ceiling on a cord and performing "Bad Girl" surrounded by dancers in white parkas and snow boots. Usher's record-breaking album sold more than 1 million copies in its debut week, and is nominated for eight Grammys.
Alicia Keys, who'd been nominated for twelve Billboard awards, took home seven, including female artist of the year, R&B/hip-hop single of the year for "If I Ain't Got You" and Hot 100 songwriter of the year. Triple Grammy winners OutKast were named group of the year, while Kanye West, who has a leading ten Grammy nominations, picked up four Billboard awards, including rap artist of the year. 50 Cent won a new award, ring tone of the year, for "In Da Club."
Introduced by Quincy Jones, music icon Stevie Wonder was awarded Billboard's highest honor, the Century Award. Former Motown labelmate, Diana Ross paid tribute to Wonder by performing a medley of "My Cherie Amour," "I Just Called To Say I Love You" and "For Once in My Life," while Mary J. Blige turned out a rendition of "As" and Destiny's Child contributed a version of "Livin' for the City."
The band played the instrumental of "Higher Ground" as Wonder took the stage, and hugged Jones and others. Wonder then surprised everyone by singing the chorus and prompting the band to pick up the beat again. "I’m sorry, y'all -- I gotta do it!," Wonder proclaimed before he launched into a rousing performance of the whole song as the show pushed past the two-hour mark.
After a brief thank you, Wonder appealed to the audience for peace, and spoke against war, racism and hatred.
"We must come together and love," he said, "and I encourage all of you, those of you who are singers, musicians, rappers, poets, whatever you might be, use your energy for the goodness of life, for the goodness of us coming together as a united people."
The awards were held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, hosted by American Idol TV show presenter Ryan Seacrest.
Celebrity appearances included Anthony Hamilton, Hoobastank, Ciara, Chingy, Big & Rich, Petey Pablo, actor Omar Epps, and Hot 100 producer of the year winner Lil Jon.
The awards honour the year's leading artists and songs in the US as determined by their performance on Billboard magazine's weekly charts in genres including rock, rap and country.
Find a full list of 2004 Billboard Music Awards winners here.