LOS ANGELES - Getting inside this year's MTV Video Music Awards might be more difficult than getting discovered in Hollywood. First, audience members actually have to score a ticket to the show. Then, they have to wade through security and be escorted through Paramount Studios — past the sound stage where "Dr. Phil" is filmed and down a faux New York City street — to Stage 16.
Here's an up-to-the-minute account of what's going down inside the VMAs:
4:08 p.m.: The doors to Paramount Studios have opened. At first, audience members with cameras are turned away, but there are so many people with cameras that security relents and lets them through anyway. Folks are separated into two lines. One is headed to Stage 16, where the awards will be handed out and performers including Paramore and Rihanna
will entertain. The other line goes to Paramount's outdoor water tank sound stage where the Jonas Brothers
4:10 p.m.: Wearing a red velvet blazer, T.I. zooms past audience members waiting to be ushered to Stage 16. He's being chauffeured in the back of a golf cart. It's the first and last celebrity sighting before a production assistant begins to lead the long trek to Stage 16. Unlike T.I., they will all be walking to the show.
4:16 p.m.: Signs pointing to Stage 16 are posted along the journey. Just past the "Dr. Phil" sound stage is a restroom labeled "last chance." Nobody goes for it. Past the outdoor set that doubles for New York City, another restroom is labeled "very last chance." Several folks ditch the horde of audience members for a bathroom break.
4:18 p.m.: Inside, Stage 16 has been transformed with a shiny T-shaped stage and several reflective panels. On one side of the makeshift auditorium is a large screen projecting footage from the red carpet outside. On the other is mirror-covered spiral staircase. Will host Russell Brand descend from it? Large glowing old-school MTV logos hang behind the risers. The whole setting feels intimate.
4:20 p.m.: Servers pass out — and several drop — glasses of champagne. Audrina Patridge from "The Hills" is one of the first celebrities to arrive inside the sound stage. She downs a glass. The audience quickly beings to fill up with celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Chris Brown tries to take a seat, but he's surrounded by people.
5:48 p.m.: "Hey everybody, please take your seats!" stage manager Debbie Williams yells on the microphone. "Thanks."
6:02 p.m.: The crowd gives a standing ovation to Britney Spears
. After she delivers her introduction, she's ushered down off the stage. Seconds later, a group of dancers followed by Rihanna
— who appears to be popping out of some sort of cake — emerges from the center aisle. During the high-energy number, several dancers break away to slip under the stage off camera.
6:10 p.m.: Bottleneck! While Russell Brand is delivering his monologue, Miley Cyrus
and Russell Simmons (and their respective entourages) are waiting in the aisle to take their seats. Cyrus doesn't crack a smile at Brand's very anti-Bush opening. Cyrus and Simmons are not alone. Several swarms of other people are standing in the aisles trying to get to their seats.
6:16 p.m.: Jamie Foxx
drops an expletive! The crowd giggles.
6:30 p.m.: While the Jonas Brothers
croon outside, some folks watch them on the jumbo screen inside Stage 16. Others mingle. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne
's DJ equipment is being set up and Katy Perry
joins DJ AM and Travis Barker on a small stage next to one of the risers. Immediately after the Jonases finish, Perry begins belting out "Like a Virgin." No one is mingling. Everyone is watching.
6:40 p.m.: Michael Phelps
receives a standing ovation, but he speaks so low, hardly anyone can hear him.
6:45 p.m.: Nobody has a problem hearing Leona Lewis
, T-Pain and Lil Wayne
during their three-ring performance. Several people stand and rock out throughout the performance. However, the audience does have an issue with the fractured award show's many moving parts. Nobody is exactly sure where to look because so much of the show isn't actually happening on the stage.
6:48 p.m.: Time for some more Hollywood magic! While Lindsay Lohan
hand out more Moon Men, a set is being erected on stage that resembles the Sunset Strip rock enclave the Whisky a Go Go. Paramore slip into the enclosure during a commercial break and test out their instruments. Young fans gather in front of lead singer Hayley Williams.
7:08 p.m.: Shia LaBeouf and Slash traipse down the revolving mirrored staircase. Careful, Shia! Both men arrive in front of the microphone without peril. The actor keeps his injured hand — which he suffered in a car accident — behind his back. While the montage of nominees plays, LaBeouf leans over to introduce himself to the woman holding the Moon Men trophy for best rock video. He shakes her hand — with his uninjured paw.
7:14 p.m.: Inside Stage 16, most of Pink
's performance is obscured as stage hands construct a smooth metal set piece.
7:23 p.m.: Christopher Mintz-Plasse — the geeky McLovin from "Superbad" — drops an expletive! The crowd giggles.
7:28 p.m.: Following T.I.'s back lot performance of "Whatever You Like," Rihanna
rises out of that metal set piece to join him — she does love an entrance, doesn't she? — and the crowd goes nuts. Stage 16 is now so packed that people are sitting on the floor, in the aisles, on the risers. Afterward, Rihanna
stops to greet the Jonas Brothers
on the way back to her seat.
7:38 p.m.: Loudest performance of the night so far goes to the agile Christina Aguilera
. Her comic-themed endeavor began near the ceiling of Stage 16 and ended in the middle of the catwalk, but the expansive decibels had even a few younger audience members jamming their fingers in their ears. Aguilera's exit was less super than her entrance. She just walked off with her dancers in tow.
7:48 p.m.: Several audience members groan when Paris Hilton
joins Brand on stage to present the award for best pop video. As the nominees are announced, Brand chats with Hilton then shoots her a thumbs-up and goes backstage. Hilton pops open the envelope while the video is still playing and flashes a smile. The audience seems to cheer genuinely when Hilton announces Spears as the winner — her second award of the night following best female video.