Tracee Ellis Ross is removing her makeup and undressing as we chat on the phone. In between pauses, I imagine her slipping out of whatever fierce dress she’s wearing, while trying to preserve her perfect curls. Despite a long day, between press and dance rehearsal, which began at 4:30 a.m., she is exuberant and determined to squeeze in a trip to the gym.
“Both of us are big on opening numbers,” she said. “We really love to do something special to start the show. The hope is that we can do that again for everybody. Keep it fresh and new. Do something we haven’t seen before. And yet, keep in mind what Anthony and I know how to do, which is keep people on their toes.”
Tracee revealed her favorite BET moment was when Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith hosted the show, but shouted with joy when I reminded her about Mo’Nique‘s epic opening act at the 2004 ceremony. “She f*cking killed it!” Tracee said.
After complimenting the seasoned hostess as one of the best to hit the BET Awards stage, she humbly replied, “Better than anyone else or best, I never try to adhere to that. I think there’s room for all of us to be good.”
And even with millions tuned in, watching from their living rooms (last year’s show pulled in nearly 12 million viewers), and her celeb peers in the audience, the 43-year-old doesn’t get nervous before hitting the stage, thanks to advice from her mother, Diana Ross.
“My mom said to me a long time ago, nervousness and excitement are actually the same feeling with a different definition. Someone else said to me once, ‘You wouldn’t be nervous if you didn’t care.'”
While Tracee will be technically working Sunday night, she is a fan of the BET Awards and will have a bird’s-eye view of the highly anticipated Prince tribute.
“It’s a Prince celebration,” she corrected. “I love the difference in language about that.
“(Prince) was a national treasure in terms of what he shared with us from himself as an artist. I had the honor of watching Sheila E. at ‘Black Girls Rock’ and just being like, ‘That’s why we know her name, thank you, Prince.’
The beat of Sheila E.’s drums bounced off the walls at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center that night, burrowing straight into our souls and commanding our feet. If there’s anyone who should be involved in the Prince tribute, it is she. Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, The Roots, and Janelle Monáe will join Sheila E. in Prince’s honor.
“I don’t know that you can ever do someone like Prince justice because there’s no one like him and there never will be, but what you can do is what we’re doing which is celebrate his music. Celebrate his life and celebrate his extraordinary contribution that he made to our world,” Tracee added.
As far as predictions about winners on Sunday night, Tracee’s personal pick to take home the BET Award for Best Female Pop/R&B Artist is Rihanna.
“It would be real hard for me between Rihanna and Bey. If I go by my latest playlist, that includes Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Drake, I’m going to have to say Rihanna because she has three tracks and Beyoncé has two,” the funny woman revealed.
While recalling which songs actually made the list, Tracee had a revelation. “‘Formation’ isn’t on there, it’s ‘Daddy Lessons’ and ‘Freedom,’ and it’s ‘Desperado’ and ‘Higher.’ OMG! Rihanna wins. ‘Sex With Me’ is on there, too. She has three and a half,” Tracee concluded.
We’ll just have to see who will take home the statue Sunday night when the BET Awards air at 8 p.m.
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