The American Music Awards, held Sunday night, are to the Grammys what the Golden Globes are to the Oscars. To be sure, no one ever refuses one (unless you’re Garth Brooks), but it doesn’t carry the same weight. 

Most critics like to rag on the AMAs for good reason since so many performances feel prefabricated. To put it another way, if you created a drinking game where you had to take a shot every time you noticed a singer lip-syncing during the evening, you’d be three sheets to the wind 30 minutes in.

The AMAs used to be in January, but they were competing with the Grammys for artists and were getting lost in the glut of first quarter award shows, including the Golden Globes and Oscars. So in 2004, they moved to November and now are smartly positioned to give pop artists a good boost right before the official kick off of the holiday shopping season.

Below are our thoughts on the 3-hour show’s best and worst moments.

THE WORST

How much did Fiat have to pay to have a car incorporated into Jennifer Lopez’s performance of “Papi,” which was a less impressive recreation of her commercials for the Italian car?  It was totally shameless, especially the part where Lopez got into the car and drove it on the stage. Between that and Vanessa Minnillo Lachey announcing that LMFAO’s performance was presented by Old Navy, why even bother going to commercials when so many of them are included in the show?  There already appears to be some backlash against J-Lo.

Have there ever been two artists with less chemistry than Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera. During “Moves Like Jagger,” the two “The Voice” mentors barely acknowledged each other. I’ve seen acts treat holographs they duet with more warmly than they did. The snub was all the more obvious by the sweet hug Levine and Travie McCoy shared after Levine immediately followed his “Jagger” performance with “Stereo Hearts” with Gym Class Heroes.  

Will.I.Am: Explain to me how will.i.am can put on a performance of new song “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)” that has the technological savvy and proficiency to include a staggering number of special effects, including Will.I.Am appearing headless  (although we think that may have been unintentional) and yet the lousy syncing of the video portion with Mick Jagger’s vocals seemed to utilize technology from 1952.

Taylor Swift:  How can she continue to be so floored when she wins awards?  Where did she think she was? What had she gotten all dressed up for if she didn’t realize she had the potential to win? Plus, even if she didn’t know she was winning ahead of time, she was one of three finalists, so she knew she had at least a 33% chance of taking home any award she was up for. I’m not saying it’s an act though because if she’s this great an actress, why wasn’t she better in “Valentine’s Day?”  On a separate note, if you haven’t seen photos of Swift’s adorable new Scottish Fold kitty, go
here to experience the preciousness.

Nicki Minaj’s lip-syncing. She and DJ David Guetta opened the show with “Turn Me On.” Half the time she forgot she was supposed to be singing. She shouldn’t have even tried.  Mina is often a  very compelling, colorful live presence, and given that anyone performing with Guetta is going to have to bring the excitement since all Guetta can do is stand there and spin, she had a lot of pressure on her.  The whole idea of  plugging her in and the speakers on her butt were intriguing, but even a coda of “Super Bass” didn’t help save the opening. On the plus side, she delivered one of the most amusing acceptance speeches of the night, including revealing that her mother now had a publicist and was going to put out a gospel album.

Justin Bieber: Maybe it’s a little too early for  him to get into the Christmas spirit, but  whatever the reason, Bieber gave the most tepid performance I’ve ever seen him give with “Mistletoe.” Whether it was the Elvis-like leather track suit (complete with Elvis karate moves at the end),  the weird lighting design that used Christmas colors but wouldn’t really commit to the holiday theme, or his blase attitude, the only thing it succeeded in was being a total miss. On a separate note, I did enjoy his crazy cameo during LMFAO’s show closer, “Party Rock Anthem/I'm Sexy and I Know It” although we were hoping for some shuffling from the Kia Soul hamsters.

OneRepublic:
Let’s preface this by saying if they were handing out an award for best actor it would go to Adam Lambert, who was able to deliver the following line with a straight face: “The lead singer and main songwriter of this next band said, ‘you’re only as good as your worst song.’ Since all their songs are masterpieces, they’ve got nothing to worry about.”  WTF? Plus, it didn’t help that said “lead singer and main songwriter” Ryan Tedder then delivered a vocal that sounded like he was strangling cats. And yet, the band still got a standing ovation simply because every artist is hoping Tedder will write a song for him or her.  At the same time, we want to give him props for at least singing live, as backhanded a compliment as that seems.


THE BEST

Mary J. Blige: She is one performer who seldom disappoints live. Even when she’s only on stage for four minutes, she seems able to dig deep from some bottomless emotional well as she did Sunday night with “Mr. Wrong.”  Plus, she knows how to dress sexily, while not being trashy, as she did Sunday in a beautiful, classy white suit. She also gave out a heartfelt, short tribute to her former label mate and friend, Heavy D. One question: If Adam Levine and Jennifer Lopez could pull double duty, why couldn’t Drake, who was MIA for his part of the song?

The Band Perry:
Anyone coming after Bieber  would have looked good in comparison, but this was the best  Band Perry best performances I’ve seen. Lead singer Kimberly can be flat in performances, but she was totally on target tonight with this stripped-down, lovely version of “If I Die Young.” Plus, her dress was gorgeous.  Looks like those three CMA Award wins two weeks ago bolstered their self confidence.

Kelly Clarkson:
As long as sponsors were rushing in, Clarkson’s performance should have been underwritten by the forthcoming Broadway play “Newsies.”  She took “Mr. Know It All” and turned it into a ’40-styled tune that looked like it was straight out of “Captain America.”  Plus, she looked beautiful in her red-sequined mermaid dress.  Runner up: Katy Perry, who performed  “The One That Got Away” on acoustic guitar. We weren’t loving the pink hair though.  Leave that to Nicki Minaj, girl.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS:


Between Nicki Minaj/David Guetta’s opening number, the second half of Chris Brown’s performance and will.i.am’s futuristic tune,  I felt like I was inside “Tron: The AMA Edition” video game.

Having Hot Chelle Rae win the fan-voted best new artist of the year was worth it simply for the reaction shot from The Band Perry, who have not, to their credit, perfected their poker face for when they lose. They looked like they smelled something very fishy.

It was nice to see Sean Kingston and Gavin DeGraw, who have both made seemingly full recoveries, Kingston from his jet ski accident and DeGraw from his random assault.

Did anyone else notice how the dancers writhing closest to Marc Anthony during his performance with Pitbull on “Rain Over Me” looked like Jennifer Lopez? Also, I think Anthony was really singing (if you think he was lip-syncing, let us know). If so, he  wins the award for best singer of the night.

Why was Enrique Iglesias even pretending that trouble with his in-ear monitors were making singing difficult during his performance of “I Like How It Feels” ( with the great Crenshaw Elite High School Choir) when it was clear he wasn't singing?  We’ll let Martina McBride, who knows a thing or two about performing on awards show,  have the final, and hilarious, word. She tweeted: “Yeah. If u r trying to lip sync, but look ‘live’..it’s best not 2 forget to put your mic up to your mouth for the last two lines of the song.”

For a complete list of winners, go
here.

What did you think of tonight's show?  Share your thoughts below.