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Backstage Secrets, Dick Clark — Producer Larry Klein Looks Back at 40 Years of American Music Awards

Larry Klein and Christina Aguilera

The 40th Annual American Music Awards will mark the passing of its creator and godfather, Dick Clark, with a tribute to the TV Academy and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who died this past April.  However, “It’s not going to be a long, drawn-out thing,” promises producer Larry Klein. “It will be short and sweet.  That’s the way Dick would have wanted it.”

Klein would be the man to know.  He’s been working on the show since he got work as a production assistant on the very first AMAs. Even after Clark sold his company a decade ago, along with the American Music Awards show, Klein says no year would pass without his getting together with best buddy Dick and chatting about the event. 

This year’s show will feature performances by some 17 chart-toppers, including Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Usher, No Doubt, Nicki Minaj, Pink, Carrie Underwood, Pitbull, Christina Aguilera and Linkin Park.  Bieber is up for three awards this year including Artist of the Year.  Bieber’s mentor, Usher, is also in the running with three nominations and the two will face off against each other in the category for Favorite Male Artist: Pop/Rock.  Rihanna  and Minaj lead the nominees with four nods apiece. Drake, Maroon 5 and One Direction have three nominations each.

Things have changed a lot, notes Klein, from the days when the likes of Helen Reddy and John Denver would “would come in and ask, ‘What should I sing?’  What does Dick want me to do?’  Now, I walk in and say, ‘I’m the producer.  Just tell me what you want,’” says Klein with a laugh. 

The special anniversary edition of the AMAs will bring us some highlights of their storied history, such as Prince’s Purple Reign prancing, Michael Jackson’s thrilling moves, and Axl Rose’s unprintable acceptance speech.  Not surprisingly, some of the moments Klein finds most memorable took place off camera.  There have been gargantuan backstage clashes, talent that had to be kept in dressing rooms that were far apart and all that sort of thing, he cheerfully acknowledges, refusing to name names.  And there’ve been heart-stopping near-misses and eleventh-hour changes.  Klein recalls that “a few years ago, the person who opened the show, at the five second mark was not on her mark – through no fault of her own.  She was supposed to be in a container, but there had been problems with it, and when the countdown started, I realized she was behind me.” 

That performer was Mariah Carey, and she did manage to whisk into the egg-shaped, spinning container at the very last second, and start the awards.  “Thank God she had the stage presence to keep her cool.  She could have freaked out,” Klein says. 

  Even though they’ll be glancing back, however, the 40th awards will be focused on today.  Klein says that every one of the 17 acts that will be performing will have its own environment.  “That’s one of the things that sets us apart.  Because of me wanting every artist to have their own atmosphere, their own look – nothing repeated — we have carts containing set pieces stretching out for six to eight blocks in downtown L.A. on show day.”  This year, he says, viewers will get to see some of the backstage action.

The hardest part must be squeezing in everything they want to do.  How does Klein manage?  “We just do it, “ he says.