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Real show is backstage at the VMAs

Lil’  Jon checks out Paris Hilton; Snoop greets Jay-Z and more
/ Source: The Associated Press

MTV has managed to find entertainment in Ozzy Osbourne taking out the trash and Mariah Carey touring her house. On Thursday night, they hoped to squeeze a few more drops out of celebrity navel gazing.

On a simultaneous online broadcast, MTV offered viewers not just a peak backstage at the Video Music Awards, but real-time behind-the-scenes access.

With more than 30 cameras, MTV’s Overdrive Web site boasted an “uncensored” look at performers, presenters and stars as they made their way to the stage, exited with moonmen awards or powdered their noses in makeup rooms.

The proceedings certainly caught Lil’ Jon’s eye.

“Zoom in on the booty!” he exclaimed when checking out the control room full of video monitors. He was disappointed with the first find: “Paris [Hilton] got a little booty! We need a bigger booty!”

At times, Overdrive offered candid, spontaneous moments, of which the regular telecast is now mostly bereft. More often, though, it was continuous, embarrassing VJ banter.

Despite numerous claims otherwise, the online broadcast wasn’t technically live, but lagged about 13 seconds behind the TV show. It was, however, “uncensored,” as Pharrell proved while riding in an elevator with Ludacris. When the camera was pointed out to him, he looked up at it and promptly swore.

VJ Damien, the primary host, worked out of the control room — a basement-like hole that resembled what Dick Cheney’s bunker might look like if he was an MTV fan. Damien, however, spent more time bragging about the hip new MTV product than actually showing backstage action.

Stars not VJsWhen MTV hosted last year’s Live 8 concert, it was roundly panned for frequently cutting from the music to its VJs. The success of America Online’s Web coverage of Live 8, though, in some sense, paved the way for Overdrive’s VMAs online approach.

Yet it appears MTV hasn’t learned its lesson: Give us stars, not VJs. Does anyone really want to hear Sway discuss his basketball prowess?

But the sights and sounds of an extremely crowded backstage area were still many, and often offered a more entertaining perspective than the actual award show.

50 Cent complained about security: “They treat me like a terrorist when I come here. They wand me 50 times,” he said while Justin Timberlake danced onstage. “How many checkpoints you got for me?”

Jessica Simpson sang an impromptu bar of Kelis’ “Milkshake.” OK Go stretched nervously before their highly choreographed treadmill performance. We even learned that their treadmills run at 2 mph.

And there was a certain joy in seeing former DJ Cipha Sounds interview former Vice President Al Gore. Similarly, it’s surprisingly fun to overhear how Andre 3000 responds to ‘How’s it goin’?’: “Can’t complain, mayne.”

In 1990, MTV pioneered the idea of a pre-show before the main event awards program. Is he network’s live backstage coverage destined to be a new staple? Probably in some form.

But next time, get Lil’ Jon to host it.