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Video Music Awards tamer than past shows, but still a frenzied scene

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MIAMI (AP) _ There was no Madonna-Britney Spears kiss, no partially clad Howard Stern coming down from the rafters, and certainly no wardrobe malfunctions.

The MTV Awards show on Sunday featured typical frenetic energy and sexy style, and a few musical surprises, but it was mostly a kinder, gentler version of past shows.

Usher showed as much skin as anybody, preening in front of the camera bare-chested as simulated raindrops fell on his chiseled body during the opening performance of ``Burn.'' And the sometimes raunchy comedian Dave Chappelle even kept it relatively clean _ despite teasing that he wouldn't.

``It's the biggest mistake you made since Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl,'' he jokingly warned, alluding to the MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime flesh show that created a firestorm earlier this year.

There may have been plenty of sex appeal on the show in Miami _ cleavage was the main fashion trend for women, cool colors for men _ but little shock appeal.

MTV was ready, though, using a several-second tape delay for the first time. The audio delay, used for years, was in heavy use during the hip-hop medley, which featured Lil Jon, Petey Pablo and Fat Joe.

The change of scenery for the awards, typically held in New York or Los Angeles, helped raise the decadence level at the celebrity-soaked affair, held at the downtown AmericanAirlines Arena.

OutKast's vivid ``Hey Ya!'' _ perhaps best described as the old Ed Sullivan show on acid _ won four awards, including video of the year. Jay-Z's ``99 Problems,'' the most nominated video with six, also won four. That gritty black-and-white video depicts the singer's own killing as a metaphor for his much-ballyhooed retirement.

``I felt like I was trying to push the envelope,'' Jay-Z, dressed in a dapper white suit and hat, said as he accepted an award _ called a moonman after the channel's logo _ for best rap video. ``That was my punishment and this is my reward.''

Usher won his first moonman as he took best male video for ``Yeah!''

``This is my first time coming up here _ let me take my time with this,'' a beaming Usher said. ``I'm so damned happy right now I don't wanna leave.''

As usual, the awards were an afterthought to explosive performances and surprise cameos.

Alicia Keys gave a dramatic, soulful spin of her hit ``If I Ain't Got You,'' and was buoyed by Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Moments later, she joined Wonder and Lenny Kravitz as they sang a classic Wonder hit ``Higher Ground.''

Keys also appeared onstage to honor Ray Charles, who died in June.

The daughters of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and President Bush made an appearance _ the Bush daughters on videotape _ to urge people to vote. The crowd voiced their politics, though, and booed loudly. The Rev. Al Sharpton made an appearance connected to voting _ not for the election, though, but for the viewers' choice award.

Acclaimed rap newcomer Kanye West staged a dramatic version of ``Jesus Walks,'' then instead of using a Chaka Khan sample for his hit ``Through the Wire,'' brought the R&B veteran onstage to sing the real thing.

In a strange stunt, Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne appeared onstage enclosed in a big plastic ball pushed by fans on the arena floor. But perhaps the most surreal, and bizarre, performance came from the Polyphonic Spree, the twenty-something member rock choir that performed in multicolored, choir-like robes. They looked like members of a lost cult from the 1970s.

There also was an appearance by uber-twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Mary Kate, who recently was treated for an eating disorder, alluded to her ordeal before introducing Jessica Simpson.

``Thank you to everyone _ you have been very supportive for the last couple of months,'' she said.

It was one of the few subdued moments during the lavish night.

Usher and Simpson arrived on the red carpet not by car, but by luxury yacht. Simpson, attired in a white dress with a silver bodice, arrived with husband and ``Newlyweds'' co-star Nick Lachey in a 68-foot boat.

The biggest entrance, of course, came from Sean ``P. Diddy'' Combs. Dressed in a white suit and with a Mohawk haircut, he arrived in a towering yacht along with Ma$e, Naomi Campbell and Bruce Willis.

The scene outside the arena was frenzied before the show. Performers such as Ashlee Simpson and Jadakiss rocked an energetic crowd while stars walked the red carpet, showing off their fashions _ or lack thereof. Lil' Kim looked anything but, as she almost busted out of the skimpy top of her flowing dress.

The show, held a day before the Republican convention was to kick off in New York City, ended on a patriotic note, as red, white and blue balloons fell from the rafters and fans held ``vote'' signs during OutKast's closing performance.
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