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Jesse Collins on 2022 American Music Awards, His ‘Hero’ Dick Clark & Being Today’s Busiest Awards Show Producer

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It’s fitting that Jesse Collins is showrunner of the 50th iteration of the American Music Awards – which is set to air live from the Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live in Los Angeles this Sunday, because he just may be the most in-demand producer of music awards shows, and music on television in general, since Dick Clark, who created the AMAs in 1973.

His 2022 credits as executive producer include the Super Bowl halftime show starring a bevy of hip-hop stars (for which he won his first Emmy Award), the Grammys (for which he was Emmy-nominated), the BET Awards and the BET Hip-Hop Awards. And right after the AMAs is the Soul Train Awards, followed in early 2023 by the Golden Globes, the Grammys and the Super Bowl halftime show starring Rihanna.

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Just days before the AMAs, Collins was feeling pretty confident. He has a strong host in Wayne Brady, a broadly popular Icon Award recipient in Lionel Richie, and a show that has a little something for everybody. The show will have tributes to Richie and Olivia Newton-John — both past AMAs hosts and artists whose AMAs totals are in double digits — as well as performances by new stars Dove Cameron and GloRilla. The Richie tribute is centered on a medley of his songs performed by Stevie Wonder, 72, and Charlie Puth, 30. That’s the kind of range the AMAs look for.

Looking at your bookings, you seem to have something for everybody.

Listen, it’s the American Music Awards. Like the nation, this is supposed to be the melting pot of music where everybody comes together under one tent and celebrates excellence in all genres. We just try to do our best to give you the full tapestry of music. You want to get your new stars. You want to get your up-and-comers. You want to get your big stars like P!nk and Carrie Underwood. You just want to make sure that everybody’s getting a little piece of everything, and that to me is what the AMAs are all about.

That was always Dick Clark’s philosophy.

Let’s say you’re not that familiar with what the new pop or R&B or hip-hop or country acts are. You can watch the AMAs and you can learn about them. You can find out who is going to be your next big star. So maybe you walk in saying, “I’m not really a fan of a certain genre,” but then you see an artist in that genre and suddenly you’re a fan.

Since this is the 50th AMAs, you’re going to have a recurring element where artists speak to their musical inspirations. What form will that take?

We’re trying to spread it out throughout the show and make it organic. So it could be in presenter copy or our host Wayne [Brady]. Perhaps winners will do it. There are some ways that we’re doing it musically. We’re just trying to spread it out throughout the show so you get that story in different incarnations.

How did you decide on Wayne Brady as a host?

I [have] worked with Wayne a lot over the years. He’s just one of the most versatile people I know. First of all, he’s an amazing host, but then he also is an incredible singer, rapper, dancer, improv performer. He’s incredibly funny, so when you’re doing a show like this you want to get a host that has so many skill sets that no matter what you throw at him, he can succeed.

How did you decide on Lionel as your Icon Award recipient?

Lionel has a long history with the AMAs. He has hosted, he’s performed, he’s won [18] awards [counting this one]. That’s been in the works for a long time. I have to credit Mark Shimmel, one of our producers, who has a long relationship with Lionel. [Mark has] been on the AMAs with Larry [Klein] for many years. Last year we knew that we wanted for the 50th show to honor Lionel Richie.

Dick Clark died in 2012, which was the same year you founded your company [Jesse Collins Entertainment]. Did you ever meet him?

No, I never met him. I just grew up watching him on TV. Obviously, I was a big fan of everything that he created. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him.

Was he a particular role model or inspiration?

Listen, I grew up watching American Bandstand and Soul Train – so both him and [Soul Train creator] Don Cornelius were heroes of mine. So, to find myself in this awards show business is incredible. I never thought I’d be producing this show.

Has [longtime dick clark productions executive] Larry [Klein] filled you in on Dick Clark stories?

Larry has been a great mentor throughout this whole process, even before I got on this show. Larry is the gold standard of variety producers. He has great stories. All the things he’s been through with this show, it’s pretty incredible.

Do you ever say “What would Dick do?” or “What would he think of what we’re doing to his baby?”

Larry sometimes will say, “If Dick was here, this is what he would want this show to be. This is what he would do in this moment.” And Barry Adelman as well. He’s one of our producers. He was with Dick for many years and knew Dick from the AMAs, the Globes and all the shows. Those guys definitely make sure that the spirit of Dick Clark lives on.

This is the second AMAs you’ve worked on. You’ve also been on the Grammy team for a number of years. Back in the day, it wouldn’t have been possible to work on both shows. They were highly competitive with each other.

Fortunately, the shows are not on the same day, so people don’t have to choose. The AMAs and the Grammys are both awards shows, but their histories are different, their legacies are different and today the shows are different – and I think that helps each one. They have different points-of-view, definitely different personalities. It’s like picking between your kids.

One reason the shows were so competitive back then is they often aired just a month apart – sometimes just two weeks apart. Now, they’re a few months apart.

When Pierre [Cossette, longtime executive producer of the Grammys] and Dick were going back-and-forth about these shows, music had a longer run. You had the one song that was the song that an artist sang on TV and that performance was coveted. Now, music cycles are much faster. Music comes out at a higher frequency. So, someone can come on the AMAs and have an unbelievable performance and then go on the Grammys and do something completely different and shock the world again. I think that’s part of the reason that the attitudes have changed between the shows.

Last year’s AMAs was the most social telecast of 2021 with 46.5 million interactions. What do you attribute that to?

First of all, our host [last year], Cardi B, is one of the most electrifying people on social media. She really knows how to ignite that base. Between that and BTS and all of the other performances, and the way we designed the show, we were really able to take advantage of what social media can do for you in an awards show environment.  

With all the shows you work on, you must have an amazing team supporting you in your company.

Dionne Harmon is not only president of the company, she’s right here leading the charge on the AMAs. The show would definitely not come together without her. Jeannae Rouzan-Clay is a great producer as well. Between the three of us, it allows us to really try to make the best show possible. [All three are credited as executive producers on the AMAs, as is Larry Klein. In addition, Collins is showrunner.]

Have you announced all of the performers?

We have not announced them all. We still have a couple of surprises.

Most of the acts that you have announced fall into the broad genres that were always the backbone of the show – pop/rock, soul/R&B and country. Now, in addition, you also have hip-hop (GloRilla and Lil Baby) and Latin (Anitta). So, I think Dick is up there looking down and saying ‘you’re keeping it going.’

I hope so. With all of those genres that you mentioned, that music can be heard anywhere in America today. So, the show is living up to the title that he gave it.

This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.  

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