Justin Bieber is thanking his haters.
The 18-year-old won favorite pop/rock male artist in the first award handed out at Sunday’s American Music Awards and gave a shout-out to those who didn’t think he would last on the music scene.
“I want to say this is for all the haters who that I was just here for one or two years. I feel like I’m going to be here for a very long time,” he said, also thanking his mom, manager, family and his “beautiful, beautiful fans.”
Usher kicked off the three-hour show with green laser lights beaming onstage as he performed a medley of songs, including “Numb,” ”Climax” and “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” which featured a smoky floor and a number of backup dancers, as Usher jammed in all black, with the exception of his red shoes.
Taylor Swift won her fifth consecutive award for favorite country female artist.
“This is unreal. I want to thank the fans. You guys are the ones who voted on this,” she said.
Nicki Minaj was also a consecutive winner, picking up her second trophy for favorite rap/hip-hop album for “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.”
Party girl Ke$ha was glammed up on the red carpet, rocking long, flowy blonde hair and a light pink dress. She switched to her normal attire when she performed her hit single “Die Young.” It was tribal, with shirtless dancers in skin-tight pants, silver hair and skeleton-painted faces, who also played the drums. Ke$ha was pants-less, rocking knee-high boots and rolling on the floor as she finished up the song.
Minaj and Christina Aguilera were blonde bombshells, too: Minaj’s hair was busy and full of volume and she sported a neon strapless gown. Aguilera wore a blonde bob in a purple dress that matched her eyeshadow. They’re both set to perform Sunday.
Kelly Clarkson also hit the stage, making a nod to her “American Idol” roots with a number on her dress and three people in judge chairs looking on as she sang “Miss Independent.” Then she went into “Since U Been Gone,” ”Stronger” and “Catch My Breath.” It’s worth noting that “Idol” judge Randy Jackson introduced Clarkson, the first-ever winner of the show. He also advised people to donate through Red Cross for Superstorm Sandy victims.
American Music Awards nominees were selected based on sales and airplay, and fans chose the winners by voting online. At this award show, even the stars took their seats as fans: Pink said on the red carpet that she’d like to collaborate with Lauryn Hill. Cyndi Lauper said her musical playlist includes Pink, Nicki Minaj and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” — an early live performance. Boy band The Wanted, who followed, said they were excited to see “Gangnam Style” star PSY, and Colbie Caillat wants to watch No Doubt.
“What makes the American Music Awards special is the fans choose the winning artists,” said Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who won for favorite artist alternative rock and will perform at the show.
Along with Rihanna, Minaj was the top nominee with four nominations.
“I don’t do music for awards,” the 29-year-old said in an interview. “It’s so crazy because people always have to remind me that I’m nominated for an award when I go to award shows.”
“I know they’re going to come. I’m sitting here looking at my awards right now,” she continued with a laugh. “I never stress it. I think of myself as ‘I’ll have a career long enough to get all those different awards.'”
Minaj isn’t up for the night’s top award, though. Rihanna, Maroon 5, Drake, Katy Perry and Bieber will battle it out for artist of the year.
But the American Music Awards are all about performances, and Sunday’s show was no exception. Taylor Swift performed on the three-hour program broadcast live on ABC, with Carrie Underwood set to follow. Justin Bieber will share the stage with Minaj. Ludacris and Chris Brown will perform with Swizz Beatz. And Stevie Wonder is set to provide the soundtrack for a tribute to the late Dick Clark.
“I’m really going there to perform ‘Freedom,'” Minaj said of her new single. “I’m very, very proud of the record and I’m happy that people are going to get to hear it. I’m performing a hip-hop song on the AMAs, and I think that’s just a big look for hip-hop.”
Other multiple nominees include Usher, Bieber, Drake, Maroon 5 and One Direction, who have three nods each. Perry, Underwood, Brown, Clarkson, Pitbull, fun., Gotye, J. Cole and Luke Bryan are all double nominees.
The 40th anniversary show will also include the tribute to Clark, its creator.
“Dick changed the face of music back in the late ’50s,” producer Larry Klein said. “Dick is the one who made rock ‘n’ roll acceptable to come into people’s homes… We’re paying tribute to Dick because of the legacy that he’s left everybody and also the creativity of what he did on this show.”
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen contributed to this report from Los Angeles. Follow (at)APSandy’s American Music Award updates at www.twitter.com/APEntertainment.