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Backstage at the VMAs

VMA press credentials don’t include tickets to the show; instead the shiny press laminate scores a seat in an overly air-conditioned tent where the big show plays on giant flat-screen TVs. It’s also the site for press conferences with the winners, presenters, and performers, all of whom were briskly escorted in and out of the tent by MTV staff. The winners, who varied from graciously overwhelmed (The All-American Rejects) to egotistically self-congratulating (30 Seconds to Mars), held a stand-in moon man statue and gave the media some choice quips.

Presenter Andre 3000 appeared uncertain of the need for his presence the press conference microphone, and rejected most of the queries on his upcoming film and whether he will be in the forthcoming Jimi Hendrix movie. “I can’t really say a lot about that,” the Outkast singer said. “But if everyone will just pray on it maybe it’ll happen.” Andre did have something to say about the title of Justin Timberlake’s new album: “FutureSex/LoveSounds…that sounds like the Beach Boys to me.”

The six members of Pussycat Dolls, who took won Best Dance Video for “Buttons,” arrived surprised and flushed, still clad in the tiny, sparkly dresses they wore during Ludacris and Pharell’s performance of “Money Maker.” Frontwoman Nicole Scherzinger — who plugged her forthcoming solo record and a new another PCD record — kept repeating things like “it’s been amazing” and “it’s really awesome” into the microphone while one of her cohorts took the opportunity to credit other dancers. “I would just like to say that winning for a dance video award means so much to us because music and dance goes hand and hand,” she said. “Dancers work so hard out there and they don’t always get the credit. All the love to the dancers out there and keep it up.”

Chamillionaire, who scored Best Rap Video for “Ridin’,” took the opportunity to clear up the misconception that his winning song is a slam at all cops. “If you look at history, from NWA to Tupac, people have said a lot crazier things about the police that people can relate to. That’s why the record ended up being the number one record in the country because people, whether you are from the ‘hood or the suburbs, can relate to that song. When I made the song I was not trying to say all police officers are crooked.” The rapper also professed a newfound respect for those in the practice of clairvoyance. “The funny thing was I was on Hot 97 today and there was a psychic there and she told me I was gonna win and I was looking at her like she was crazy,” he said. “Now I’m like, ‘This is crazy for me to win this award.'”

OK Go, who wowed the audience with a live performance of their video for “Here It Goes Again,” which involves a choreographed dance with six running treadmills, explained why bassist Tim Nordwind lip-syncs in the video rather singer Damien Kulash. “The reason that I don’t sing in the video is because Tim has this certain je ne sais quoi,” Kulash said. “I mean basically if you compare us, Tim is what you pick. It’s not even a question. It’s just like, ‘That’s the dude I want to see talking.'” Can the YouTube viewing crowd expect more of these videos in the future? “I’m not sure how cool it would be for us to keep making videos that were just like this,” Kulash admitted after asking if it was okay for him to swear in the press room. “I think it could get kind of boring. So if we get another great idea, we’ll make another video. If we don’t, we won’t.”

The drunkest band in attendance, the All-American Rejects, walked on stage with a glass of liquor during their acceptance for Best Group Video for “Move Along.” Who gave it to them? None other than Diddy himself. “It was Johnny Walker Blue,” elated singer Tyson Ritter exclaimed. “Puff Daddy poured it for us at the top of the show and had no idea that it was going to be the winning drink. It made our performance so smooth. He was like ‘Good luck’ and how did I know he was going to be the fortune teller for the evening?” Ritter was similarly overjoyed when asked what he thought of being a sex symbol. “A sex symbol!” he drunkenly shouted while being ushered out of the press room. “Well then bring that shit on! A sex symbol!”

Mike Shinoda of Fort Minor took home the award for Ringtone of the Year, a new addition to the list of moon men awarded at the VMAs that seems to need a bit of justification. “We admit that ringtones are obviously a very important part of what we do these days and obviously it’s made enough noise that MTV — which gives away video music awards — gives one away for ringtones,” Shinoda said of the award. “That that’s going on obviously means that they’re important.” But Shinoda, who mentioned he is currently in the studio working on a new Linkin Park album, doesn’t have a ringtone on his own cell phone. “I unfortunately have a really lame Blackberry, and let this be a message to the people that make Blackberrys that they need to put the ability to have cool ringtones on them,” he said.

30 Seconds to Mars arrived with a statuette in tow for the MTV2 Award, confusing the press room because their acceptance was left out of the broadcast. The band caused a scene with singer Jared Leto’s brash attitude and refusal to acknowledge any question that wasn’t about the award show. He did respond to host Jack Black’s coy joke about Leto’s frontmanship of the group. “I wish there was more Jack Black on stage,” Leto said, in a valiant effort to make light of the crack. “He’s so funny. I liked his comment about his band being like Jared Leto’s 30 Seconds to Mars. That was very funny.”

In a surprise turn of events, Pink won Best Pop Video for “Stupid Girls,” which mocks other pop stars like Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears for the poor messages they send to their fans. “To win for ‘Stupid Girls’ for Best Pop Video was completely unexpected,” she said. “I know everyone says that, but I was talking while they were giving away the award. And then Nick Lachey and Nicole Richie giving it to me was very ironic. I can appreciate irony. It feels good because behind the song is an actual message and to be able to be backed up by someone like MTV for that message felt really good.” Pink, who is remaking Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You” for the NFL, noted that her favorite moment of the evening happened backstage. “I got stuck in a room with all the cast of Jackass,” she said. “We had more fun than humans are allowed to have.”

Tattooed rockers Avenged Sevenfold didn’t have much to say after their win for Best New Artist, particularly since the California band has been around for years. “It’s definitely an honor,” singer M Shadows, who was missing his signature aviator sunglasses. “We’ve been together like eight years, so winning Best New Artist feels kinda of strange, but it’s great.” When asked how he and his notoriously party-loving band planned to celebrate, Shadows replied, “We’re going to drink our faces off,” while pint-sized bassist Johnny Christ joked that he was going to “ride the big ride at the amusement park.”

Fall Out Boy coincidently started their press conference right as Panic! at the Disco won Video of the Year, and they were elated for their friends, who also happen to be signed to bassist Pete Wentz’s record label, Decaydance. “We just heard Panic! at the Disco just won,” Wentz exclaimed, as the TV screen next to them displayed their comrades’ acceptance speech. “That’s fucking awesome!” Fall Out Boy — who are hard at work on a new album in Los Angeles that will include songs with titles like “I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears and None on My Fingers” and “I’m Like a Lawyer With the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off” — were surprised to be taking home an award for the second year in row. “This is the second year we’ve won a viewer-voted-on award, so we just want to thank our fans more than anything,” he said. And what happened to the monkey that escorted them down the red carpet earlier in the evening? “The monkey, he left,” Wentz said sadly. “He had too many accidents so he had to go away. But we wanted to thank him because we forgot to thank him before.”

Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose arrived in the press room several minutes after the show’s conclusion; he introduced the Killers’ show-closing performance. The cornrow-headed Rose, who clearly had no interest in speaking with the media, dodged questions about his band’s forthcoming record, only noting that he initially planned on refusing the offer to be a presenter. “I just met the Killers this week and they’re really great guys,” Rose said. “They asked me to present and I wasn’t going to until I met them.” STORY & PHOTOS BY EMILY ZEMLER