By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It took an idea, a casting service and dozens of people keeping a secret for organizers of music's Grammy Awards to pull off one of Sunday's biggest surprises at the annual ceremony.
Thirty-three couples, some of whom were same-sex partners, were married at once during the performance of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' pro-gay rights song, "Same Love," giving the awards show a heavyweight emotional and political punch.
The marriages were officiated by Queen Latifah, and Madonna - dressed in a white suit with a matching white cowboy hat and cane - made a surprise appearance to accompany the song's featured singer, Mary Lambert.
Neil Portnow, president and CEO of Grammy organizer The Recording Academy, said he was proud of the ceremony, calling it "elegant, powerful and meaningful as we wanted it to be."
"So many of our ideas come from the creative community, from our artists," Portnow told reporters after the Grammys. "These folks wrote an incredible song. They have ideas about society and tolerance and fairness and that's their message."
Portnow said organizers treated it like any other performance with dozens of extras by hiring a casting service to find couples willing to wed during a hip-hop song and on television in front of tens of millions of people.
But one of the biggest achievements may have been keeping the wedding a secret until Sunday.
"They'll (casting agents) speak with them. They'll see them. And then part of the discussion is that this is going to be a confidential process, and you hope that people will keep to that and fortunately they did," Portnow said.
Word of the mass wedding did not come out until Lewis and Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich told the New York Times on Sunday. Ehrlich said that he and the hip-hop duo discussed the idea last fall. The report said that 34 couples would tie the knot. It is not known if one of the couples got cold feet.
Portnow also shrugged off questions about whether he was worried that the public would believe the Grammys were politicizing the awards show or risked forcing their beliefs on their television audience.
"We don't take a political position on anything," he said. "The statement that was made tonight was about people that want to be together."
(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)