By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - R&B star Chris Brown, fully rehabilitated in the public eye after beating up ex-girlfriend Rihanna two years ago, led the list of winners with criminal pasts at the BET Awards on Sunday.
Brown took home four awards, including the viewers' choice prize, amid some confusion at the 11th annual celebration of black musicians, actors and sports people. He led the contenders with six nominations.
In an unfortunate turn, Brown's name was called as the winner of the viewers' choice award, and then Rihanna's. Canadian rapper Drake awkwardly appeared on stage at the Shrine Auditorium to accept on her behalf.
But at the end of the show, it was revealed that Brown was the actual winner and there had been a technical snafu. Alas, that was too late to save the lucky fan charged with announcing the winner from being savaged on Twitter.
Brown's music career stalled after he pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna in February 2009, setting off a national debate on young, abusive relationships.
He publicly apologized, underwent court-ordered domestic violence counseling, and spent six months performing community service. Earlier this year he topped the U.S. pop album chart, a sign that his career was back on track.
"I know it's been a long road, so I just appreciate every blessing that's been in front of me," said Brown, dressed casually in white T-shirt, denim shorts and a silver kerchief.
He shared BET's best collaboration prize with Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. The latter spent most of 2010 behind bars on a weapons charge. Brown's other awards included best male R&B artist and best video.
MICHAEL VICK HONORED
Other winners included professional football player Michael Vick, on the comeback trail after serving 19 months in federal prison for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. He was named best sportsman, but was not on hand to accept the award.
Representing the other side of the law was prison guard-turned-rapper Rick Ross, who was a frequent performer on stage. At one point, the portly star unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a notable pair of breasts.
"I feel like you should put a sports bra on," host Kevin Hart said afterward.
Soul star Cee Lo Green used his expansive girth to better effect during a tribute to Patti LaBelle. He dressed as the flamboyant R&B icon as he belted out her signature tune "Somebody Loves You Baby."
"You scared me," LaBelle said afterwards.
In a decision that averted a family feud, singer/actors Willow and Jaden Smith shared the Young Star award, while their father Will Smith looked on with tears welling in his eyes. Willow, who had a novelty hit last year with "Whip My Hair," thanked her parents for "letting us push harder and keeping us on track with our music and stuff."
Jaden Smith's 17-year-old friend Justin Bieber, ubiquitous on the awards circuit recently, appeared on stage to present an award and engage in some scripted salacious banter with female hip-hop artist winner Nicki Minaj, almost 10 years his senior.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)