By Sandy Cohen
LOS ANGELES – The BET Awards are branching out.
Tween heartthrob Justin Bieber and Disney star Selena Gomez are among the nominees, three brand-new artists will debut on the show, and for the first time in its 10-year history, the BET Awards will begin with a big musical number that’s may remind viewers of “Glee.”
“This is the biggest show we’ve ever done,” said Stephen Hill, BET’s president of music programming and specials. “All I can say is you’re going to want to tune in for Queen Latifah’s opening.”
The coy executive producer wouldn’t confirm the “Glee” connection, but praised host Latifah’s varied skills: “She acts, sings, raps — and might be taking tap lessons.”
Sunday’s show also marks Kanye West’s first televised appearance since Taylor-Gate at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, when the rapper swiped the microphone from stunned “Best Female Video” winner Taylor Swift and declared that Beyonce should have won the award. He’s been keeping a low profile since the onslaught of bad publicity almost a year ago.
“Everybody wants to see what Kanye’s doing,” Hill said. “I saw him in March and he said, ‘I’m staying out of sight and I’m going to come back strong at the BET Awards.'”
Also making a comeback Sunday is T.I., in his first televised performance since the 29-year-old rapper was released from prison in December.
John Legend, who will receive BET’s humanitarian award, said he’s thrilled to participate in the show again, and especially honored to be recognized.
Legend said his charitable work through the Show Me campaign, which aims to eradicate poverty through education and health care, “has never been about awards, but about making a real difference in people’s lives.”
“Hopefully this award will inspire others to do the same,” Legend said.
Prince will also be honored Sunday with BET’s lifetime achievement award.
“That Prince is going to allow us to celebrate him, we’re humbled,” Hill said.
Expect a musical tribute to the prolific artist.
Last year’s BET Awards, held just days after Michael Jackson’s death, celebrated the late King of Pop with a series of tributes. Another is planned for Sunday’s show, Hill said.
“We’re going to recognize it’s been a year since he passed,” he said. “All tributes have been missing one thing, and we are providing the one thing every other tribute has been missing.”
Ever coy, Hill declined to be specific.
He said that Sunday’s BET Awards have been energized by the inclusion young artists such as Drake and Nicki Minaj, and Gomez and Bieber, who are not black and not considered urban artists.
“It’s always great to have the energy of that artist who makes 14- to 18-year-old girls lose their minds,” he said. “Bieber is … generating this type of electricity, and it really crosses all lines.”
The BET Awards honor the year’s best in music, sports and film. Jay-Z leads nominees with five nods, while Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Trey Songz and Melanie Fiona have four nominations each.
The awards will be presented at the Shrine Auditorium and broadcast live on BET.