It’s safe to say Usher made his mark with his Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show on Sunday night! The singer pulled out all the stops and showed off his acclaimed showmanship for the performance he called an ode to his decades-long career — which was clear from the musical walk down memory lane featuring intricate choreography, various callbacks to his iconic discography and, most importantly, guest appearances reminiscent of the days of TRL.
But the extravaganza didn’t come together with magic. It took a team to bring the start-studded show together, and ET got to speak with Jesse Collins, halftime show executive producer, about how it all went down.
Collins — who also worked behind the scenes when Rihanna turned the world upside down with her Super Bowl LVII halftime performance, where she revealed that she and her partner, A$AP Rocky, were expecting baby no. 2 — told ET’s Kevin Frazier that his team was focused on bringing Usher’s vision of having a party onstage to life.
“I think Usher, from the beginning, wanted this to be a party. He wanted people who have been a part of his career through its entire 30-year run,” Collins shared, referring to the dazzling guest appearances the singer added in his performance.
After kicking off the show with his classic hit, “Caught Up,” and taking time for “Superstar” and “Love in This Club,” Alicia Keys appeared onstage with a custom piano as she belted out her single, “If I Ain’t Got You.”
She was later joined by the leading man to sing their iconic duet, “My Boo,” channeling the chemistry they had in 2004, when the songstress appeared on the chart-topping hit. For her brief appearance on the field, Keys wore an all-red look by Dolce & Gabbana.
And the surprises didn’t stop there!Jermaine Dupri took the stage to give a brief intro as the halftime show continued, and Usher’s clothes inevitably began to come off until he was shirtless and crooning “U Got It Bad” to a slew of screaming fans. After a guitar interlude from H.E.R., Usher hit the stage on skates for a performance of “O.M.G.” with will.i.am.
Usher had a coming home moment as Lil John, Ludacris, and Jermaine Dupri helped him end his 15-minute show with “Yeah!” The group all donned matching blue outfits as they ended the show with a bang — and an ode to their hometown, Atlanta.
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“Between us and CBS, it was well over 25 cameras,” Collins revealed, adding that Usher wanted the highly organized performance to give the appearance of “organized chaos.”
“He wanted the HBCU vibe and, like he said, he brought the world to the A, and that’s what he did,” the show producer said. “It was very hard to get that on in eight minutes and off in six… We didn’t get it actually on time until tonight, so it was a nail-biter.”
Reflecting on how the entire production came together, Collins praised Usher for having “really thought every single second through” when it came to his performance. From the Las Vegas dancers to the roller skating segment, Collins emphasized that Usher had a hand in planning it all.
He noted: “I mean, for me, [the roller skating] was easy, I don’t have to do it, but for him, it was pretty spectacular. He did a full wardrobe change. Well, I mean, he was down to pants, but you know he did make a wardrobe change, and then he got those skates on; I think it was less than 10 seconds and off in a shorter time than that, and it was amazing.”
Even will.i.am, whose duet with Usher made history as the first-ever song to be performed at two halftime shows by two performers who have both appeared in two different halftime shows during the same year — praised the “Good Good” singer for his innovation.
“Usher just added a whole different dimension of choreography on the grass,” he told ET after their performance. “He really did his thing, I’m really proud of him.”
He added, “You’re lucky to be selected to play that stage. It’s America’s biggest stage that’s impacting the world. Michael Jackson kicked it off for us, and Prince was heavenly on it. U2 did an amazing job on it. To be added to that list, Black Eyed Peas played that in 2011 and now, Usher — who performed with us in 2011.”
With all the moving elements of the production, Collins admitted that the piece that was the most difficult to move around was the one they had no control over — the field. “We rehearsed on a tarp all week. This was the first time we saw grass, so we never really knew what it was gonna look like,” he revealed, noting that Usher and the dancers practiced on the grass in other stadiums to try and get a feel for what they’d be working with at Allegiant Stadium.
Thankfully, it all came together beautifully. “It was a little nerve-wracking, but you know it worked out,” Collins said gratefully. “You know the field is working great for the players tonight, and it worked great for Usher, so everybody was alright.”
Speaking with ET ahead of Sunday’s big game, Usher shared that he “changed a few things” about his day-to-day routine to make sure he was in shape for the epic performance. “In the process of getting ready for the Super Bowl, obviously I wanted to make certain that I was at my healthiest,” he noted. “I stopped eating gluten. I did cut sugar, all alcohol. I haven’t had a cigar or anything.”
While it’s been a hectic few months of preparation leading up to the big day, Usher shared that for him, it’s “definitely been an amazing time.”
“I love all the cameras, I love the energy, I love the people,” he marveled. “More than anything, I remind myself to smile. Most of the time, you get so caught up in being serious and making certain that everything is perfect and has a certain intensity. Every day I come in, I try to give positive energy. No matter how tired I am, no matter how much the day before me will drain me right, I’m smiling because I’m here.”
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“We work to be here and everybody that is here deserves to be,” he continued. “Sometimes we need to be reminded that we deserve to have what we have, and we’re so caught up in trying to hold on to it, we don’t enjoy it, so I really want to enjoy this moment, smile and enjoy.”
As for what he hoped viewers and fans would take away from the show?
“There’s more than one way to sustain a career,” he noted. “You’re never too old. You’re never too young. It all works together, but the one thing you need is to believe that you can — and that’s what Las Vegas represents for me.”
Usher said that for him, the Super Bowl is the culmination of not only years of work, but the recent months he’s spent performing in his headline-making Park MGM residency.
“101 shows done here — 100 of them sold out,” he reflected. “And that next one that I’m about to have in a couple of days is a crescendo of my belief in this city and the celebration of my 30-year career.”