LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It was a night of comebacks at the BET Awards, and none more unexpected than Chris Brown performing an emotional tribute to Michael Jackson.
The embattled pop star has mostly kept a low profile since pleading guilty to felony assault for beating up Rihanna in February 2009. But here he was, center stage, mimicking Jackson's signature dance moves with almost eerie accuracy. Introduced by Jermaine Jackson, Brown embodied the King of Pop, wearing his fedora and spangled glove and moonwalking across the stage to "Billie Jean."
Then, as Brown grabbed a microphone to sing "Man in the Mirror," he broke down in tears. His voice cracked, he couldn't sing, and at one point he crumpled to the stage in apparent agony. It was a moving moment made even more so by the song's lyrics and Brown's recent past.
Sunday's ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium began with a comeback: Kanye West opened the show atop a volcano onstage in his first TV appearance since dissing Taylor Swift at last year's MTV Video Music Awards.
T.I. also made a triumphant return to television in his first TV performance since being released from prison in December. Backed by Travis Barker on drums, T.I. performed "Yeah Ya Know," and later returned to the stage to sing "Hello, Good Morning" with Diddy-Dirty Money, Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj, who won for female hip-hop artist.
El DeBarge also made a comeback, his falsetto undiminished, performing hits "I Like It," "Time Will Reveal" and "Rhythm of the Night."
Host Queen Latifah was also musical, first singing to famous members of the audience, then returning to her rap roots and rhyming about the royalty in the audience: herself and Prince, who is to receive BET's lifetime achievement award.
Usher was backed by a string section as he sang "There Goes My Baby." Drake, who was named best male hip-hop artist, performed his hit "Thank Me Later." B.o.B. was joined by Keyshia Cole, and later Eminem, on "Airplanes." Eminem continued with his new single, "Not Afraid," backed by a choir.
Alicia Keys performed a medley of her hits, bookended by two awards. She won for female R&B artist and best collaboration for her song with Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind."
John Legend will also receive a special honor Sunday. The Grammy winner will be presented with BET's humanitarian award for his work the Show Me campaign, which aims to eradicate poverty worldwide through education and health care.
The BET Awards honor the year's best in music, sports and film in 19 categories.
Trey Songz was named best male R&B artist, Serena Williams won sportswoman of the year and LeBron James was sportsman of the year.
Jay-Z led nominees with five nods, including two for video of the year, for "Empire State of Mind" and "Run This Town."
Beyonce, Keys, Songz and Melanie Fiona had four nominations each.
Tween sensation Justin Bieber is up for best new artist, while fellow tween star, Selena Gomez, is nominated for the Young Stars award.
Winners are selected by a voting academy comprising industry insiders and executives, music journalists and a group of fans randomly selected by BET.com.