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What Are the BET Awards?

by Scott Kacsmar
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June always means it is time for the BET Awards, which are not to be confused with the BET Hip Hop Awards, an annual event that usually airs in October.

Both award shows are aired live and are a staple of the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network’s programming, a station that has been in service since 1983. The BET Awards were first held in 2001.

June 30, 2024, will mark the 24th edition of the BET Awards, which honor black and other minority entertainers in film, music, sports and philanthropy.

Before heading to our top-rated sportsbooks for this year’s edition, let’s look back at the history of the BET Awards, including the types of awards handed out, the venues, the memorable hosts and the biggest and most notable winners over the years.

Where Are the BET Awards Held?

While the 1st BET Awards were held in Las Vegas in 2001, the ceremony has largely been a Los Angeles-based award show ever since. The Kodak Theatre (now known as the Dolby Theatre) was the venue for the BET Awards in 2002-05. It then shifted to the Shrine Auditorium in 2006-12.

The Nokia Theatre/Microsoft Theatre (now known as the Peacock Theatre) was the home for the next 7 years in 2013-19 before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced a virtual show for the 20th anniversary of the BET Awards.

The Peacock Theatre in Los Angeles remains the venue of choice for 2021-24.

Who Has Hosted the BET Awards?

The BET Awards have done a good job of getting a variety of entertainers to host the event over the years:

  • Comedians Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer hosted the 1st and 2nd BET Awards in 2001-02.
  • Mo’Nique is the only person to host the BET Awards 3 times, doing so in 2003-04 and again in 2007.
  • Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith were the first duo/couple to host the event in 2005, and that was an award show where Will did not slap Chris Rock, who would host the BET Awards in 2014.
  • Actor Jamie Foxx has the longest gap between his appearances as host of the BET Awards, doing it in 2009 and 2018.
  • Amanda Seales (Insecure) was the host for the 2020 virtual show.
  • Actress Taraji P. Henson handled hosting duties in 2021-22.
  • Due in part to the writer’s strike, there was no host for the 2023 BET Awards.

There currently is no listed host for the 2024 BET Awards either.

What Is the Nomination Process for the BET Awards?

The voting academy for the BET Awards includes roughly 500 people, including artists, people in the music industry, media and bloggers.

BET sends these academy members an electronic ballot, which is filled out with nominees they feel are deserving of different awards. After the top nominees are narrowed down, the academy members go through a voting process to determine the winners.

What Is the BET Award Trophy?

The BET’s Award Trophy is inspired by 3 words: Aspire, ascend and achieve. It was designed by artist Carlos “Mare139” Rodriguez.

The award was first won by the rap duo Outkast during the inaugural event in 2001. The quality of the trophy was enhanced in 2007 by the Society Awards, a New York manufacturer who used plated steel and black crystal to give the award its current look.

BET Award Trophy

Types of Awards at the BET Awards

There are roughly 5 types of award categories at the BET Awards with the music awards having the most awards.

Music Awards:

  • Album of the Year (2017–present)
  • Video of the Year (2001–present)
  • Viewer’s Choice Award (2001–present)
  • Best Collaboration (2003–present)
  • Best Female Hip-Hop Artist (2001–06, 2008–present)
  • Best Male Hip-Hop Artist (2001–present)
  • Best Female R&B/Pop Artist (2001–present)
  • Best Male R&B Artist (2001–present)
  • Artist of the Year (2001–present)
  • Best New Artist (2001–present)
  • Dr. Bobby Jones Best Gospel/Inspirational Award (2001–present)
  • BET Her Award (2018–present) – Awards songs that center women
  • Best International Act (2010, 2018–present)
  • Best New International Act (2019–present)

Film Awards:

  • Best Movie (2010–present)
  • Best Actress (2001–present)
  • Best Actor (2001–present)

The acting awards include both film and TV actors. The Best Movie category actually has done a great job of picking winners, including Precious (2010), The Help (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2014), Straight Outta Compton (2016), Black Panther (2018), BlacKkKlansman (2019) and Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). A slight quibble with Hidden Figures beating Get Out in 2017, but overall, this is a very solid list.

Sports Awards:

  • Sportswoman of the Year (2001–present)
  • Sportsman of the Year (2001–present)

Not to start a fight, but can anyone explain how Jalen Hurts won Sportsman of the Year in 2023 over Patrick Mahomes? It was Mahomes who won the MVP and Super Bowl over Hurts from that season. However, this category has sparked controversy in the past as running back Reggie Bush was twice nominated despite having very tame stats and impact in the NFL while he was compared to other athletes who were at the top of their sports.

Other/Miscellaneous Awards:

  • Video Director of the Year (2008–present) – Given to a director of music videos.
  • YoungStars Award (2010–present) – Given to a rising star (usually a teenager).

Special Awards:

  • Lifetime Achievement (2001-present) – Given to a veteran artist/group in music.
  • Humanitarian (2002-present) – Given to a celebrity philanthropist for charitable work.
  • Ultimate Icon (since 2015) – Given to a veteran artist with a career that is defined as iconic by both fans and critics.

The Ultimate Icon award has only been handed out 3 times with Janet Jackson (2015), Debra L. Lee (2016) and Tyler Perry (2019) winning it.

The Humanitarian Award has not been given out since 2020 when Beyoncé won it.

Usher is the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award winner just months after his Super Bowl halftime show. That will hopefully be a well-received pick down the road, unlike the recent 2022 selection of Sean Combs that many at BET are likely regretting now in light of new information.

Notable Winners in BET Awards History

If you had to guess the biggest winner in BET Awards history, you shouldn’t need many guesses to land on the correct answer of Beyoncé, who has won 38 BET Awards as a solo artist and with Destiny’s Child since 2001.

In 2023, Beyoncé added 3 more BET awards to her resume, including Album of the Year for Renaissance after she tied with SZA. In addition to her wins, Beyoncé has over 80 nominations, easily the most of anyone ever.

Beyoncé almost doubles up the next closest music artist on the list of winners as Chris Brown has won 20 BET Awards. Drake is the only other artist to have at least 15 BET Awards.

On the acting front, Denzel Washington and Michael B. Jordan are tied with 3 wins in the Best Actor category. The interesting part with this award is you can be nominated for multiple films you did in the previous year, which makes it even more absurd that Denzel did not win in 2002 when he had Training Day and John Q on his resume. Will Smith won that year for Ali, but I guess we learned our lesson about making fun of the Fresh Prince at award shows.

For Best Actress, Taraji P. Henson has been a constant fixture with 6 wins, doubling up Halle Berry (3) for the most wins. Half of Henson’s wins are in relation to her role as Cookie Lyon on the show Empire.

For sports, you probably could have guessed that tennis legend Serena Williams has been the big winner for Sportswoman of the Year. Her dominance is unrivaled as she won the award 16 times in 2001-19.

When it comes to Sportsman of the Year, the NFL may be king in America, but NBA players have dominated this award with 21 wins in 23 years since 2001. Only quarterbacks Michael Vick (2011) and Jalen Hurts (2023) have been able to snatch the award away from NBA players like LeBron James (9 wins), Steph Curry (5 wins) and Kobe Bryant (3 wins).

We’ll see if Patrick Mahomes can bring it back to the NFL for the 2024 BET Awards.

What Have the Ratings Been Like for the BET Awards?

The BET Awards have been one of the highest-rated programs for the network on an annual basis. A total of 5.2 million viewers tuned into the 1st BET Awards in 2001.

Those ratings would steadily rise until they peaked with the 2009 BET Awards, which was watched by 10.65 million, nearly doubling the previous year’s viewership. While Jamie Foxx is a good host to have, the somber reason for this huge spike in ratings was that superstar Michael Jackson suddenly died just 3 days before the event, which changed course at the last minute to honor and pay tribute to the King of Pop.

However, that 2009 show did sustain its increased rating for years as the 2010 BET Awards drew 7.4 million viewers. Things did not start to fall off until 2017 when a record-low 3.83 million watched, then it was 2.87 million in 2018, 2.43 million in 2019 and in the 1.6 to 1.7 million range in 2020-21.

Of course, all award shows are experiencing these dips as people cut the cable cord, streaming has taken over and the old methods for calculating live TV ratings are a bit outdated.

Still, the BET Awards remain one of the few American awards shows that you can count on to honor minority artists every year with awards and live performances.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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