Steve Harvey moved his beloved Neighborhood Awards from Las Vegas to Atlanta, fully expecting it to be a rousing success.
Not surprisingly, he pulled it off, filling Philips Arena Saturday night nearly to the brim with 12,000 fans, dozens of celebrity friends and plenty of laughs over a four-hour show that also featured performances by a range of R&B and gospel artists including Ne-Yo, Robin Thicke and a blistering Tamela Mann.
His supporters came out in force all weekend, lining the red carpet to catch famous folk, attending his new three-day expo at the Georgia World Congress Center, selling out three comedy shows led by Lavell Crawford and partying up with the likes of the O'Jays and Bel Biv Devoe at two late-night parties.
The Neighborhood Awards themselves went off without a hitch. While Harvey would like the program televised at some point, the fact he didn't have to worry about commercial breaks or broadcast standards was an advantage. Comics were able to riff on the dais. Anthony Hamilton sang four songs instead of the usual one. He was able to go off on his love of cussing by actually cussing (and then sort of apologizing for doing it in front of the likes of Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams.)
Harvey emphasized how special this awards show is, that it focuses on rewarding non-famous people. And the audience was packed with mostly non-famous folks as well. "You ain't been to the Emmys. You ain't been to the Oscars. You ain't been to the Grammys," he told the crowd. "You got your suit on layaway!"
He also gave jokey "rules" to the winners. For instance, sit in their assigned seats at the end of a row so they can get to the stage quickly and not to have the cameras watch them slowly edge down an aisle. "Don't drag us down memory lane," he said. "Thank your spouse and your lord and get outta there! If you can talk, that's good. But just because you own your business doesn't mean you can kill the speech."
Harvey's producers also threw a surprise guest on him, without his knowledge: an appearance by Atlanta's own Keith Sweat, who sang two of his biggest hits. "This is why this will always be the Hoodies," Harvey said, the original name for the show, which began in Los Angeles, then moved to Las Vegas for several years. He changed it last year to the Neighborhood Awards for a more mainstream appeal.
Keith Sweat showed up to perform "I Want Her." I have an iPhone 4 without a good lens and was still able to get this shot. Why? I got a ticket to the show literally just minutes before the show started and the publicist only had a front-row seat left. I sat two seats over from Shamar Moore and was completely utterly not dressed for the occasion. (I was wearing jeans!) I'm certain the guy with the camera in front of me went out of his way to avoid me. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
The best spontaneous moment was when David Mann started teasing Crawford for his size, which necessitated Crawford to hit the dais and mock the heck out of Mann's rather rotund size himself and relative lack of height.
Harvey, who created the awards with his business manager Rushion McDonald 12 years ago, is a savvy marketer, too. Ford, the title sponsor, had not one, not two, but three automobiles on the stage the entire night. Several awards were sponsored by the likes of Home Depot, JC Penney or State Farm. Radio stations that air Harvey's show were attached to every nominee.
Among the 12 categories (which included best soul food, best high school coach, best church and best nail salon), Atlanta was represented in nine of them. But only one local representative won: best church choir:
Word of Faith Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Dr. Nina Bronner, wife of Bishop Dale C. Bronner, Sr., has over 200 members. Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral has won the Gospel Choice Awards for Best Choir. Some of Word of Faith Cathedral Choir’s ministry highlights include the Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards Program, Gospel Choice Awards, and The Bronner Brothers International Hair Show. The choir recorded its first CD single “Heal Our Land” in 2006.
And while Harvey himself has broadened his overall appeal outside the African-American world thanks to his talk show and "Family Feud," this event targeted his most loyal black fans, who represented 98 percent of the heavily female audience.
Here are some photo highlights from the red carpet and the event.
Todd Tucker and Kandi Burruss, newly bretrothed, looked resplendent in white on the red carpet. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajccom
Todd took fan's smartphones and took selfies while Kandi yapped with reporters. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Kandi Burruss and Todd Tucker meet the fans before the show. She was the only "Real Housewives of Atlanta" cast member to attend. (She was a presenter.)
Kirk Franklin with his wife Tammy. He is on two TV shows: GSN's "The American Bible Challenge" and BET's "Sunday Best." CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Wendy Raquel Robinson, who shoots "The Game" in Atlanta, braced herself for the wind as a storm brewed right before the start of the show. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Claudia Jordan (left) and Rickey Smiley (middle) yuk it up with Roland Martin, who split time doing his own reporting and gabbing with reporters. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Actor David Mann with his fans at the "blue carpet," which was Harvey's version of the red carpet.
Gospel star Donnie McClurkin enjoyed working the crowd and the crowd returned the favor. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Actress Holly Robinson Peete talks with Roland Martin on the red carpet. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Atlanta's James L. Jones, Sr., was nominated for best community leader but lost to D.C.'s Stan Richards. Jones is founder and chairman of Simply United Together, an international community service organization that promotes enhanced community sustainability, human relations, civic engagement and economic viability for disenfranchised communities.
Erica Atkins-Campbell, star of WE-TV's "Mary Mary."
My selfie with Atlanta native and stand-up comedy legend George Wallace.
George Wallace told me he had just ended a ten-year run at the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is now doing shows nationwide again. He doesn't have an Atlanta date set yet but hopes to within the year. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Lisa Raye McCoy is shooting the fourth season of "Single Ladies" in Atlanta, but now for Centric instead of VH1. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Jai White has starred in OWN's "For Better or Worse," shot in Atlanta.
Former Stone Mountain resident RonReaco Lee has spent a lot of time in Atlanta lately for BET's "Let's Stay Together" and upcoming Starz show "Survivor's Remorse." CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Shemar Moore love sthe cameras. And he isn't shy about promoting his own TV show. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Tamela and David Mann, power couple, are shooting a reality show with BET. Their TV cameras hovered over them on the red carpet. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
David Mann danced to "Man in the Mirror," the intro song. (Get it?). Then he started getting on Lavell Crawford's case and it went downhill from there. Tracee Ellis Ross laughed so hard, she said her jaw hurt. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Grammy-winning R&B singer Crisette Michele. Thumbs up or down on this outfit?
Atlanta's Grammy winning singer India.Arie salutes Harvey for creating the awards show, then sings "Brown Sugar" in honor of the attendees. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Johnny Gill handed out long-stem roses to the ladies in the front row, ever the charmer.
Kirk Franklin has a laugh with Harvey on stage. (Harvey is on the opposite dais out of camera view). He then sang a bit of "Rain Down on Me" with much of the crowd singing along.
Stand-up comic Lavell Crawford took faux issue that he was naming the best soul food place, as if he were an expert on such things. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Steve is a smart man. He brought his wife Marjorie up because he said without her, he wouldn't be where he is today. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Lisa Raye McCoy ("Single Ladies'), Wendy Raquel Robinson ("The Game") and Roland Martin ("News One Now") on the dais. Martin's radio show was recently added to 1380/WAOK-AM.
Tamela Mann brought down the house with her powerful rendition of "Take Me to the King." CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Actress Terri Vaughn surprised Harvey by the fact she's seven months pregnant. CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
R&B singer Anthony Hamilton was the only artist who got to sing four songs in the middle of the show. CREDIT: Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org
Comic Sheryl Underwood mock married Shemar Moore on stage and got a little lap dance action, too.
Atlanta's Ne-Yo finished up the musical acts with plenty of back-up dancers.
Shirley Strawberry, a sidekick on Harvey's morning show, announced the winner of the community leader Hoodie with actor Hill Harper ("Covert Affairs") and the Ford multicultural manaer Shawn Thompson (right)> CREDIT: Rodney Hoemail@example.com
Stan Richards was the winner of the $30,000 community leader Hoodie award. Here's the descriptive for him: Stan Richards is a native Washingtonian. Stan is a successful entrepreneur, author of the book From the Bus to the Bentley: No More Limits, and founder of The Richards Group Foundation. He is married and father of two sons. Stan Richards is proof that you can do whatever you put your mind to. A master at creating wealth, Stan urges all he meets to challenge themselves by tapping into their talents to create their own business enterprises. For more information, go to www.stanrichardsonline.com