See You

5, 4, 3 ... Applause! Keep it going!" a production assistant commands the 200 or so teenyboppers assembled in the newly created park behind American Airlines Arena for a special Video Music Awards episode of TRL. The show hasn't even begun taping yet, but the kids, mostly girls in bikini tops, jeans, and daisy dukes, are already screaming their hearts out.

It is nearing TRL start time. For the next fifteen minutes, the production crew keeps everyone entertained by cranking up Black Eyed Peas's "Let's Get Retarded." A girl jumps up on stage and sings along. "Let's get retarded, ha, let's get retarded in here," she bleats enthusiastically in what could have been a scene from Say What? Karaoke. When Nina Sky's "Move Ya Body" comes on, several girls leap onto the stage to grind away and shake their little booties. It turns out to be the most happily inspired moment of the afternoon.

Unfortunately, just as everyone is twirling and twisting, flushed and happy, a boy suddenly collapses. The music is summarily cut off. "Everybody, please remember to drink water," says an overhead announcer as medical staff and police quickly encircle the boy. He's still on the ground when TRL begins broadcasting live at 5:00 p.m., and is quietly carted off on a stretcher while the number nine video on the special VMA countdown, Eminem's "My Band," plays on a large-screen video panel.

Meanwhile, at the arena itself, somewhere on the second level deck at Gate 6, Carson Daly interviews pop stars such as the black-haired men of Good Charlotte, while John Norris prepares to ambush Beyonce and Li'l Kim (who really is very petite). Mase, the cadence-averse hip-hopper whose un-retirement was demanded by none, shows up and smiles, "I'm back," a phrase he would annoyingly repeat during each subsequent public appearance.

Back at the park, a production assistant tells the crowd that it is Mase's birthday, "and we would like everyone to sing happy birthday to him." When Daly predictably offers to serenade Mase, the assistant lifts his arms, commanding the audience to sing, and they respond with gusto. "Oh, thank you," smiles Mase.

While all this is going on, stars begin streaming in. They are quickly ushered into a special VIP area. Hilary Duff saunters past, clad in jeans and red high heels, and Jadakiss and Styles P arrive with an entourage of large men in white T-shirts. In fact, save for anonymous R&B singer Houston, who jumps on stage at one point to sing his hit "I Like That," and special co-host Omarion, there are more celebrities scattered around the arena and VIP area than hanging out with the fans in thrall to them.

Then again, for most of the thousands of people who descended upon South Beach last week, the goal wasn't to actually interact with the celebrities in town. They simply wanted to see them, watch them have a good time, and maybe get a souvenir picture or two.

Last week was all about the celebrity sighting and, whenever possible, showering the stars with love and affection (official swooning was both experienced and witnessed, brought on by proximal encounters with Marc Anthony in one case, Ludacris in another). In what nearly became a news story in itself, the venerable Miami Herald ran pages of stories fawningly centered around celebritude, along with a blog of sightings from nearly a dozen reporters posted to the newspaper's Website on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

This citywide blowjob reached its apex on Saturday, August 27, the night before the awards. Washington Avenue and Collins Avenue were clogged with limousines, Hummers, and their poorer Ford and Chevy cousins. The clubs were packed, people pushed against the velvet ropes, and surly doormen enthusiastically manhandled patrons. Ticket prices for these so-called MTV parties (after all, MTV itself was responsible for precious few of them) ranged from $35 for a ticket to the Beastie Boys LIFEBeat benefit concert at crobar to priceless -- meaning, if you weren't on the list, you didn't get in -- for the many "private" parties at hotels and lounges. Then there were the ultra-exclusive affairs thrown at P. Diddy's place and by other rich people who have second homes in South Beach's gated communities.

And what were we doing all weekend? The same thing, of course. Yes, we gawked at and conversed with our share of celebrities. We saw Paris Hilton with such annoying frequency we thought we'd have to elbow her away from the counter at Puerto Sagua. One Andy (Dick) mooned a group of delighted high school students while another (Garcia) strode past, low-key in dark glasses and khakis. And the Olsen twins didn't seem food deprived -- something was fueling their metabolisms furiously enough to keep them going through daybreaking parties at the Raleigh and the Delano.

By Sunday night, we were pretty burned out, though. Our jaws were getting tired from fellating the stars. Still, we managed to make it to American Airlines Arena for what turned out to be a lackluster, anticlimactic Video Music Awards show (we'll spare you the details -- at least in this story.) When we saw Usher, who would go on to win two Moonmen that night, walking down the red carpet outside the arena, his publicist quickly tried to escort him past us. But we managed to ask him a question. What did he think of the cover story we ran on him last week?

"Love 'em man," Usher said. "That was a good profile of me. I wish they hadn't got me with my tongue in my mouth, though."

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Jean Carey
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Hunter Stephenson