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Cedric the Entertainer leads fun Emmys opening with Rita Wilson, other stars

LL Cool J, Anthony Anderson and even Rita Wilson all paid tribute to a classic Biz Markie song, with a twist.
/ Source: TODAY

On the one hand, Cedric the Entertainer was the host for Sunday's 2021 Emmy Awards.

But it was Rita Wilson who lit up the room (and social media) during the show's opening number!

Even before the 2021 Emmy Awards kicked off Sunday night, Cedric promised some "big, fun" moments: "Two of my favorite Emmy hosts are Billy Crystal and Martin Short. We didn't want to go Broadway with it, but we do want to do something similar to that," he told People magazine. "So we got a big, fun number to open up and show that's got some sketches."

The 73rd Emmy Awards
Cedric The Entertainer, Rita Wilson, and LL Cool J kick off the Emmy Awards.Cliff Lipson / CBS via Getty Images

And what the audience got was a love song to television, set to the tune of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," rapped by ... well, Rita Wilson!

It all started out with Cedric strolling out onto the stage in the limited-access room the Emmys were being held in (a small space with round tables full of nominees, a la Golden Globes) and two small stages. Cedric started things off, rapping Biz's classic words, with a twist: "TV, you got what I need, but you say he's just a friend."

And then he handed it off to others to get to rhyming, starting with hip-hop legend LL Cool J. "Black-ish" star Anthony Anderson also got in on the fun, as did "Pose's" Billy Porter. But then Wilson took her moment in the sun while the camera swept around the room, making it all feel like a true family celebration.

And the Twitterverse went nuts:

"can’t believe i missed Rita Wilson rapping on the emmys… a moment that will live on in our hearts forever," wrote @TheSarahGorman

"GIRL you rocked it tonight," wrote @bobiman:

@Ecareyo wisely noted, "Since January of 2020, it’s always come back to Rita Wilson":

Clearly, he's been paying attention, because Wilson (whose husband is Tom Hanks) is not entirely a novice here. She's got a tradition with country music, but while coping in quarantine as she dealt with a COVID-19 diagnosis, she posted a video on Instagram, rapping away to Naughty By Nature's 1990s hit "Hop Hop Hooray."

And the following month she turned up on "The Masked Singer" ... where she also had rapped the Naughty By Nature tune!

Still, she did stand out among the crowd, if not so much for her overall skills than as a true surprise. But the opening of the show has been one big surprise, starting with the inside of the "auditorium" for the night. With everything modified due to pandemic restrictions, it was both smaller than a typical Emmy awards gathering, but also crowded compared to what we've gotten used to seeing for award ceremonies since the pandemic hit. (Last year there was no audience at all except for some cardboard cutouts of actors, and host Jimmy Kimmel frequently had to work solo.) A giant Emmy Award dominated the main stage; the secondary stage in the middle of the room was empty except when presenters or winners stepped up on it.

Stay tuned to see what other changes and surprises are coming your way for this new-normal version of the Emmy Awards!