How Fan Access Made Canada's MuchMusic Video Awards a Primetime Winner

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TORONTO - The glitz and glamour at Sunday night’s 2012 MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto is likely to come as much from screaming Beliebers, Gleeks and Katycats in surrounding streets, and even the TV studio’s parking lot, as much as from the international star performers themselves.

Welcome to Canada's street-front and studio-less TV awards show, where rabid fans that camp out for days ahead of the Canadian music video kudosfest get equal billing with star-driven performances.

“It’s not an industry event. It’s all about rabid fans who have being sleeping in the rain to get their entrance wrist-bands,” Sheila Sullivan, executive producer of the 2012 MuchMusic Video Awards, told The Hollywood Reporter.

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We're not talking bleacher seats on the Academy Awards red carpet, or seat fillers at the Grammys and the MTV Awards that give their places up to a returning star.

This is egalitarian Canada, where fan access means getting into the face of receptive MMVA performers and presenters.

To do that, the Canadian awards show makes full use of surrounding streets for red carpet entrances, the MuchMusic studio's large rollup windows to allow camera shots of sidewalks filled with fans, and a parking lot with a low-rise stage that gets stars close to their fans.

Hometown boy Bieber in 2010 famously danced in the window of the MuchMusic headquarters before making his MMVA debut by performing "Baby" and "Somebody to Love" on an outdoor stage.

Other international artists to perform at the MMVAs in recent years include Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kanye West, Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears and Fergie.

“Artists can reach down and fans can reach up. It’s a physical connection. We get the fans as close to the stage as possible to encourage that,” Sullivan said.

This Sunday night, American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson, hip-hop star Flo Rida, Bieber, co-host LMFAO and Katy Perry will perform, as will breakthrough UK artist Ed Sheeran, Bieber protégé Carly Rae Jepsen and Nelly Furtado.

There’s an echo here of the Toronto International Film Festival, with its easy-going, audience-focused format, which has international pop music stars at the MMVAs confident they can get close to local fans and paparazzi, do something silly or scandalous, and all without feeling under siege.

“Things can get squishy and all that. But we can get on the blower and tell the kids to step back and they follow directions well,” Sullivan said of stage-side etiquette at the MMVAs.

That in turn allows jaw-dropping antics by performers and presenters, especially when they arrive on the Queen Street red carpet.

“It’s not a traditional red carpet, it’s as much an arrival for the fans. It’s about the spectacle, artists one-upping each other by arriving in Sherman tanks, hot tubs,” Sullivan said.

In 2005, Canadian rockers Billy Talent arrived on the red carpet in a Sherman tank, Katy Perry in 2010 drove up to screaming fans in an ice cream truck, and Vancouver rockers Marianas Trench have arrived at the MMVAs in a mobile hot tube and last year in inflatable plastic balls.

Of course, the MMVAs’ secret sauce includes a fast-paced show, cutting edge video wall projection, lighting and sound effects, much like other awards shows.

But Sullivan insists the Canadian music awards is unique for its outdoor street party feel and fan access.

“It’s real. It’s not constructed. We don’t control who comes down here. That accessibility really makes us unique,” she said.

The 2012 MuchMusic Video Awards will air Sunday night on MuchMusic in Canada and on Fuse in the U.S. market.

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