The BET Honors committee spared no expense aligning the right performers for the celebratory event. Considering the magnitude of the music figures being honored in song – icons Aretha Franklin and Berry Gordy – meeting the high standards was clearly the only way to go.
Below, we rank the night's 10 acts:
1. Karen Clark-Sheard: "Amazing Grace"
BET wanted to remind viewers that while Aretha Franklin is the undisputed Queen of Soul, her roots are in the church. Gospel icon Karen Clark-Sheard kicked off Aretha's tribute with a rousing rendition of the famous hymn "Amazing Grace." Kierra Sheard's mother put on a foot-stomping show that left everyone in awe, especially when she made an echoing sound effect during her closing. Vocal powerhouse Ledisi paid homage via Twitter:
Mrs. Karen Clark-Sheard 3secs in and I was done!Saaaaaaaaagah!!!MyGAWD!!— ledisi (@ledisi) February 25, 2014
2. Smokey Robinson: "Tracks of My Tears"
Smokey moved the audience with his melodic offering of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles's "Tracks of My Tears." But the showstopper was his personal tribute to his best friend, honoree and Motown founder Berry Gordy. Smokey's heartfelt song about Berry's impact and success brought to tears the iconic executive who Russell Simmons said "made us."
3. Jennifer Hudson: "Rock Steady," "You Better Think," "Respect," "Daydreaming," "Natural Woman"
The audience received a noticeable energy boost when Jennifer Hudson was called to the stage for the Aretha Franklin tribute. Jennifer had the longest set of the night, performing a mini concert of some of Aretha's biggest hits. Jennifer was phenomenal and has been inundated with praise.
4. Janelle Monae: "Want You Back," "ABC"
Janelle Monae was a fitting choice to perform Jackson 5's "Want You Back" and "ABC" during the salute to Motown. Janelle's footwork hearkens back to the J5 era and she tweaked the pitch of her voice to emulate Michael Jackson and was lively and entertaining.
5. Aretha Franklin: "A Change Is Gonna Come"
After being serenaded by Jennifer Hudson, Karen Clark-Sheard, her son and granddaughter, the graceful Aretha Franklin sang a song to honor the late Nelson Mandela. Her version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" was inspiring and in alignment with his message of peace.
6. Tamar Braxton: "Do You Know Where You're Going To," "Upside Down"
"Braxton's Family Values" star and R&B singer Tamar tackled two Diana Ross favorites with ease. Before singing she said that she and her sisters used to argue about who would get to be Miss Diana Ross. "Tonight she wins," Tamar said before moving into her sexy, poised covers that were a part of the Berry Gordy tribute.
7. Mariah Carey: "You're Mine (Eternal)"
Though Mariah looked and sounded great (lip synch rumors persist), her performance of her new single "You're Mine (Eternal)" felt out of place as the BET Honors recognized other noted entertainers and industry leaders.
8. Wayne Brady: "Pony," "Started From the Bottom"
Show host Wayne Brady incorporated his singing, rapping and dancing talents into the event. During his opening, he sang and danced to a cover of Ginuwine's 1990s bump and grind anthem "Pony," changing the lyrics to shout out the honorees. Later in the show, with an crowd participation assist from Anthony Anderson, Wayne performed a freestyle rap over an instrumental of Drake's "Started From the Bottom." Anthony probed the audience for keywords and Wayne added them to his impromptu rap.
9. Victorie Franklin: "Take Me to the King"
Aretha's adorable granddaughter, Victorie, sang a cover of Tamela Mann's gospel hit. It wasn't pitch perfect, but it was pleasant. Who wouldn't want their grandchild to participate in their celebration?
10. Kpoint Franklin
Viewers were caught off guard when Aretha's son, rapper Kpoint, came out to perform one minute of an unfamiliar gospel rap song. Mom seemed happy, though, as she clapped along as Kpoint asked the crowd, "Are you feeling it?"