The "new bachelorette," as host Jimmy Kimmel called her, presented the very first award to Mary J. Blige for favorite female soul/R&B artist.
Before Britney came out, a Kevin Federline look-alike was lowered from the ceiling, packed up in a storage crate, and then carted off stage.
A video was shown of the "K-Fed crate" being put on a truck, driven to a dock, and tossed into the water.
"A whole school of fish just got pregnant," quipped Kimmel.
Beyonce was the opening performer on the show, strutting onstage in a bronze and silver striped micro-mini. She was followed by a very sophisticated looking Carrie Underwood, who sang a medley of her songs.
There's no pretense of the AMAs being a "serious" awards show. The winners aren't selected by industry peers or a panel of critics.
Instead, it's a true popularity contest, with the nominees determined by their record sales and the winners chosen by the public.
The categories have changed over the years, following shifts in musical tastes. This year the nominees competed for a total of 20 awards in Pop/Rock, Country, Soul/Rhythm & Blues, Rap/Hip-Hop, Adult Contemporary, Alternative, Latin, and Contemporary Inspirational.
Mariah Carey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Eyed Peas and Nickelback led the list of nominees with three nods apiece.
The Peas went three for three, winning favorite rap/hip-hop duo or group, favorite R&B/soul duo or group, and favorite rap/hip-hop album for "Monkey Business." They accepted their awards via satellite from Costa Rica where they're performing this week.
Red Hot Chili Peppers won awards for favorite pop/rock duo or group and favorite alternative artist. The group also accepted via satellite, from London.
Nickelback won one award, and Carey went home empty-handed.
Other multiple winners included Kelly Clarkson for favorite pop/rock female artist and favorite adult contemporary artist; Mary J. Blige for favorite soul/R&B female artist and favorite soul/R&B album; and Rascal Flatts for favorite country duo or group and the T-Mobile Text-In award, voted on by the fans.
Some of the awards, like Shakira's for favorite Latin artist, were announced prior to the telecast.
Country singer Carrie Underwood beat out rapper Chamillionaire and the Pussycat Dolls for favorite breakthrough artist.
Jamie Foxx won his first American Music Award, for favorite male soul/R&B artist. Accepting his award, he sent a "shout out" to his biological mother seated in the audience. He added that he hadn't seen her in several years.
Later on the show, Foxx got a standing ovation for his heartfelt performance of "Wish U Were Here," a song about his late grandmother.
Now in its 34th year, the awards are the brainchild of TV and radio legend Dick Clark, who produced the show for more than three decades. Clark, who is still recovering from a 2004 stroke, said he almost considers it one of his children.
"I watch it," said Clark of the event, which among other things is a showcase for artists promoting their latest music. "Sure, I'm interested. I created that thing 34 years ago. You can't just dismiss it (from your life)."
See next page for more details and a full list of winners.