It’s fitting that Jesse Collins is the showrunner for the 50th iteration of the American Music Awards – set to air live from the Microsoft Theater at LA Live in Los Angeles this Sunday, as he may be the music awards’ most in-demand producer since Dick Clark, who in 1973 Salle created AMA, so shows and music in general on television.
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 are the Soul Train Awards, followed by the 2023 Golden Globes, the Grammys and the Super Bowl halftime show starring Rihanna.
Just days before the AMAs, Collins was feeling pretty confident. He has an accomplished host in Wayne Brady, a hugely popular Icon Award recipient in Lionel Richie and a show that has something for everyone. The show will feature tributes to Richie and Olivia Newton-John — both past AMA hosts and artists with double-digit AMA totals — as well as performances by newcomers Dove Cameron and Gloria. The Richie tribute centered around a medley of his songs performed by R&B legend Stevie Wonder, 72, and pop star Charlie Puth, 30. This is the kind of range that AMAs look for.
Your booking looks like you have something for everyone.
Listen, it’s the American Music Awards. Like the nation, it is considered a melting pot of music where everyone comes together under one tent and celebrates the excellence of all genres. We try our best to give you the complete tapestry of music. You want to get your new star. You want to get your up and coming. You want to get your big stars like P!nk and Carrie Underwood. You just want to make sure everyone is getting a little piece of everything and that’s what AMAs are to me.
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 AMA and you can learn about them. You can find out who is going to be your next big star. So maybe you say, “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 AMA, you’ll have a recurring element where artists talk about their musical inspirations. What form will that take?
We’re trying to spread it throughout the show and make it organic. So it could be the presenter copy or our host Wayne [Brady]. Perhaps the winners will do it. There are a few ways we’re doing it musically. We’re trying to spread that across the show so you get that story in different incarnations.
How did you decide on Wayne Brady as your host?
i am [have] Worked with Wayne for many years. He is one of the most versatile people I know. First, he’s an amazing host, but then he’s also an incredible singer, rapper, dancer, improv performer. He is incredibly funny. When you’re doing a show like this you want to have a host who has a lot of skills so that whatever 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 hosted, he performed, he won  reward [counting this Icon Award]. Which has been going on for a long time. I have to give credit to Mark Schimmel, one of our producers, who has a long relationship with Lionel. [Mark has] Was on the AMA with Larry [Klein] For many years. Last year we knew we wanted to do a 50th show to honor Lionel Richie.
Dick Clark died in 2012, the year you founded your company [Jesse Collins Entertainment]. Have you ever met him?
No, I haven’t met him. I grew up only watching him on TV. Obviously, I was a big fan of everything he made. Unfortunately, I could not meet him.
Was he a particular role model or inspiration?
Listen, I have grown up to see American Bandstand And Soul Train – So he and both [Soul Train creator] Don Cornelius was my hero. So, finding yourself in this award show business is incredible. I never thought I would be producing this show.
there is [longtime dick clark productions executive] Larry [Klein] Have you met Dick Clark’s story?
Larry has been a great mentor throughout this process, even before I came on the show. Larry is the gold standard of various producers. He has a great story. What he has done with this show is quite incredible.
Do you ever say “What would Dick do?” or “What will she think about what we’re doing to her baby?”
Larry would sometimes say, “If Dick was here, he’d want this show to be on. That’s what he’ll do right now.” And Barry Adelman too. He is one of our producers. She had been with Dick for many years and knew Dick from the AMAs, the Globes and all the shows. Those guys definitely make sure the spirit of Dick Clark lives on.
This is the second AMA you’ve worked on. You’ve been on the Grammys team for several years. Earlier it was not possible to work on both shows. They were very competitive with each other.
Fortunately, the shows aren’t on the same day, so people don’t have to choose. The AMAs and Grammys are both awards shows, but their history is different, their legacies are different and the shows today are different – and I think that helps everyone. They have different perspectives, definitely different personalities. It’s like picking between your kids.
One of the reasons the shows are so competitive is that they often air only a month apart — sometimes just two weeks apart. Now, there is a few months gap between them.
When Pierre [Cossette, longtime executive producer of the Grammys] And Dick was going back and forth about these shows, the musical had a long run. You had a song that was a song that an artist sang on TV and that performance was catchy. Now, the music cycle is much faster. Music comes out at higher frequencies. So, someone can come to the AMAs and do an incredible performance and then go to the Grammys and do something completely different and shock the world again. I think that’s part of the reason why attitudes change between shows.
Last year’s AMAs were the most social telecast of 2021 with 46.5 million interactions. What do you attribute that to?
First, our host [last year], Cardi B, is one of the most electrifying people on social media He really knows how to light up that base. Between that and BTS and all the other performances, and the way we designed the show, we were able to really 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 to support you in your company.
Dionne Harmon is not only president of the company, she’s leading the charge right here at AMA. The show certainly wouldn’t have come together without him. 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 the performers?
We have not announced them all. We still have some surprises.
Most of the acts you announced fall into the broad genres that have always been the backbone of the show – pop/rock, soul/R&B and country. Now, also, you have hip-hop (Glorilla and Lil Baby) and Latin (Anita). So, I think Dick was looking up and down saying ‘You keep it up.’
I hope so too. With all the genres you mentioned, that music can be heard anywhere in America today. So, the show lives up to the title he gave.
This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.