Radio Disney Music Awards 2017 Live Event Recap

On Saturday, April 29th, Radio Disney assembled some of the hottest young artists in the music industry and some of the freshest talent from Disney Channel for the fifth annual Radio Disney Music Awards. This was my second time attending the awards show (last time was in 2014), so I already knew what to expect. The red carpet was lined with fans waiting to see – and scream at – their favorite stars. But I was more concerned with Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin, which was set up outside to promote the upcoming Disney XD reboot of Ducktales. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did wait in line to jump in and yes, it kind of hurt.

But as cool as it was to trudge through a pool of oversized coins, the real reason everyone was there was for the Radio Disney Music Awards. Taking our seats in the Microsoft Theater (three rows behind Genevieve “Choo Choo Soul” Goings, no less), we found programs and an oversized wristband that would sync with the show for some pretty impressive looking visuals. The program came in handy as, don’t shoot me, I had never heard of half of these artists before (“I’m old!… Oh, I’m like the Crypt Keeper!” – Freaky Friday 2003). What you won’t see on TV is that before the cameras started rolling, and in between takes, an emcee would talk to the audience about what was required of us. This included instructions on how to wear our wristband, how to scream, how long to scream for, etc… And with that, the ceremony began.

I’m about to drop a truth bomb that might blow some young minds, but that opening where the audience counts down to the Descendants 2 premiere of the song “Ways to Be Wicked” was actually take 2, which we reshot in the middle of the 3.5 hour shoot (for this 90-minute special). However, the enthusiasm for Sofia Carson, Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce and Booboo Stewart was completely genuine. The crowd couldn’t get enough of them. Sofia Carson was also a cohost for the ceremony and they next introduced a trio that included another host, Jordan Fisher.

The first live musical section of the night was a tribute to Moana. Jordan Fisher kicked off the set with his rendition of “You’re Welcome” featuring Tally on the rap subbing for Lin Manuel Miranda. But the moment that got the audience really into it was when Auli’i Cravalho and Alessia Cara turned “How Far I’ll Go” into a duet and then a trio when Jordan Fisher rejoined them at the end. It was a wonderful performance, definitely one of the highlights of the ceremony, and I loved that the show started with two back-to-back Disney pieces.

During the introduction that you saw on TV, there were some edits. In the audience were three giant heads of Nick Jonas, Jack Black and Hailee Steinfeld. During the montage, the music would trip up and fans would shake the giant heads for the camera before the list of talent continued. I was surprised to see this cut as I thought it was hilarious, But again, filming lasted for over three hours due to reshoots and pauses between takes, so it’s not really surprising that some things needed to be sacrificed to turn this into a 90-minute broadcast.

This show used five hosts and one of the few times they all appeared on stage together was to introduce the Ardie’s High Five, created by Barry White Jr., a teacher from North Carolina who created individual high fives for all of his students. He made his way down the line, doing his high five dance with Jenna Ortega, Jordan Fisher, Kelsea Ballerini, Sofia Casrson, and Alex Aiono. The first award of the night was for Best Collaboration, presented by Bea Miller to Camilla Cabello for “Bad Things” with MGK.

Unlike the last show I attended, the RDMAs had blatant sponsorship this time around via the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Fan Zone, the Pepridge Farm Goldfish Smile Zone, and lots of plugs for American Girl dolls. The next performance was by Hailee Steinfeld debuting her new single, “Most Girls.” The triple-threat started the song from backstage at a makeup mirror before proceeding to the stage through one of the fan zones. Her performance was a dance heavy power pop mashup that included her other Radio Disney hit, “Starving.” I really enjoyed her performance, which was reminiscent of the early performances of Britney Spears (more on her in just a few paragraphs!!!!!! ! !!!!!!!).

Next, two Disney Channel alumni took the stage. China Anne McLain from Ant-Farm returns to the network this summer and has been absent from the scene for a few years. In fact, I last saw her at the 2014 RDMA’s not as a featured performer, but as part of the preshow with her sisters. She presented Best New Artist to Grace Vanderwaal along with Skylar Stecker from Austin & Ally. Vanderwaal performed her song “I Forgot My Name” later in the show and is perhaps most recognizable for being the winner of the 11th season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

The next artist was also introduced by Disney Channel talent. Madison Pettis debuted on Corey in the House, starred alongside The Rock in The Game Plan, and is now a voice on The Lion Guard. Elizabeth Peyton Lee is the star of Andi Mack, the new series from the creator of Lizzie McGuire. The two introduced Julia Michaels, who sang “Issues” (twice, actually, due to a technical issue that required a reshoot).

Cohost Kelsea Ballerini was the next performer, who rocked the Microsoft Theater with a medley of “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs,” “Yeah Boy,” and “Peter Pan.” As a country singer, it was a refreshing change from the mostly pop-infused evening of talented performers. Her inclusion helps solidify Radio Disney Country’s brand presence at the ceremony. Her talent spoke for itself, but her backstage recap with Sofia Carson required a reshoot due to a timing goof. Once again, the name “Britney Spears” was dropped (!!!!!!!! !!! !!!!!).

In what can only be described as the most predictable part of the night, the cast of Bizaardvark (Olivia Rodrigo, Lele Pons, and Madison Hu) presented the award for “Favorite Social Media Star.” It was a big upset for me personally that Jiffpom the Pomeranian lost the award because honestly, this was in the bag. But Jake Paul from the same show as the presenters took home the golden Ardie (eye roll emoji). But he at least admitted that Jiffpom should have won, a feeling synonymous with the audience in that moment. I only hope Jiffpom’s parents gave him a meaty treat to console him.

Keeping things in the Disney family, the next performer was Noah Cyrus. Yes, the sister of Miley Cyrus, who dramatically disavowed her Disney past and took such a left turn that the network went so far as to prematurely pull Hannah Montana reruns from the air. Noah performed “Make Me (Cry)” in a Mickey Mouse sweater and ended her powerful performance by blasting confetti through a hose into the audience. I did not understand the giant white masks that were handed to some members of the audience during her performance, but they were quickly confiscated after her act.

Violinist Lindsey Sterling did a short performance as a segue into a segment about the need for music education and the Give a Note Foundation’s efforts to bring Radio Disney artists to schools around the country. It’s great to see Radio Disney fostering the arts in programs all over the country. The next performer was one of Disney Channel’s biggest stars, Sabrina Carpenter from Girl Meets World who recreated her music video for “Thumbs.” The subway set took a few minutes to set up, but even longer to take apart. It was a really cool performance with lots of energy. The choreographer, lights, and energy made it one of the coolest moments of the show. The applause went on much longer than the edited televised version let on thanks to a plug from Goldfish crackers (I love them because they are SO delicious).

The moment that I was most excited about (!!!!!) was the tribute to Britney Spears(!!!!!! !!! !!!!!!), who was being honored with the first ever Radio Disney Icon Award. The radio station is about to turn twenty and her debut single was on the air during that introductory year. Her Disney roots go back even further, as the pop mega star got her first professional work on Disney Channel’s The All-New New Mickey Mouse Club. Three of the talented artists paid tribute to her with a performance, plus a surprise guest. It started with Kelsea Ballerini’s rendition of “Oops… I Did It Again,” paying homage to Britney’s red leather suit with a sparkly bodysuit. Hailee Steinfeld followed on the right side of the stage in a ringleader suit to perform “Circus,” which preceeded Sofia Carson’s version of “…Baby One More Time,” recreating the music video’s iconic schoolgirl outfit, choreography and all. The surprise guest turned out to be Britney’s sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, who is now a country singer and performed “Til the World Ends,” joined for the finale by the other three singers.

Queen Brit Brit looked genuinely touched by the tribute as the camera cut to her reactions and she definitely wasn’t expecting her sister to surprise her like that. Mama Spears was there, dancing and cheering while Jamie Lynn rocked one of the humble pop star’s best dance tunes. As Britney took the stage to give an acceptance speech, the crowd began chanting her name. She hugged each of the young stars who idolize her, thanked Radio Disney, and also called out her two sons, Sean and Jayden, who are “The reason my heart beats.” Humble Queen. As she left the stage, a team of dancers took the stage and performed “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” which was Radio Disney’s Song of the Year in 1999 (“I don’t know if you knew that, Alex” – Ellen’s Energy Adventure).

How do you follow something like a tribute to Britney Spears? If you’re Radio Disney, you bring Train to the stage to perform their feel good song of the year, “Play That Song.” While kids watching at home might not understand, most of the audience at the Microsoft Theater was comprised of adults, who all clapped and swayed along to the band’s lead single off their tenth studio album. Train has been around since 1993, the same year Britney started on the MMC. Coincidence?

“Favorite Radio Disney Country Artist” was another award where the winner was not a shock at all. It went to cohost Kelsea Ballerini, who simultaneously won Best Country Song. But when Raven Symone and Anneliese Van Der Pol took the stage with the cast of Raven’s Home, I was almost as gleeful as I was when Slayney accepted her award. They introduced Alessia Cara’s solo performance, whose song “Scars To Your Beautiful” is about celebrating the beauty in everyone. If I could gaze into the future, I would take a peek to see if Raven’s Home truly is a carbon copy of Fuller House. Either way, I’m gonna love it.

I was beginning to wonder how they were going to present seventeen awards given that we’d already been in our seats for over two hours and things seemed to be winding down. That’s when they marathoned most of them via a quick video reel. For a full list of awards, check out our related post. The next honorees won the Heroes for Change award. Jocelyn Woods is helping teens get college funding and Natalie Hampton created an anti-bullying app that helps kids find friends to eat lunch with at school. In addition to taking home Ardies for their efforts, the girls also got to introduce Grace Vanderwaal’s performance.

Next, Jack Black (plugging Sony’s remake of Jumanji) presented his friend, Nick Jonas, with the RDMA Hero Award. Honored for his work in creating awareness for Diabetes and his fundraising efforts to help scientists research ways to improve the lives of those affected. He was joined on the stage by a group of kids diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, who modeled his Drop Spot hats. You can get one yourself and support this cause here.

Next, the audience was repositioned for the finale because the next performance would take place in the aisles and the theater needed to look 100% full (it was maybe at 90%). While Breakout Artist of the Year (Alessia Cara, surprise!) was being awarded, we were playing a weird game of musical chairs with no clear winners and no prizes. Erin Bowman kicked off the two-part finale with “Good Time, Good Life” as she made her way to the stage. This segued into Fitz & the Tantrums performance of “Handclap” As their upbeat dance track came to an end, the five hosts joined them for a confetti finale. It was a ton of fun attending the fifth Radio Disney Music Awards and I hope to be there again next year. We didn’t get to keep the light up wristbands, but they had no Disney branding and I would never use it again, as the emcee kindly pointed out when breaking the news that they weren’t our new favorite fashion accessories for life. While there were a lot of highlights, I would say my top 3 were the Britney Tribute(!!!!!), Moana Medley, and Sabrina Carpenter in that order.

This recap was brought to you by Flavor Blasted Goldfish… just kidding, but seriously they’re pretty good and you should maybe definitely yes try them.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).