Rita Wilson goes viral with rap in all-star singalong during Emmys opening

The celebrity rendition of 1989 classic 'Just a Friend' was a homage to late rapper Biz Markie and to television

Rita Wilson performs during the opening number of the Primetime Emmy Awards. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The Emmy Awards opened on a high note with A-listers from Billy Porter to Rita Wilson singing and rapping in tribute to television.

The four-minute segment began with a brief monologue by host Cedric the Entertainer, who spoke about the seminal role the medium has played in his life.

“You know why I wanted to host the Emmys?” he said in the pre-recorded bit. “It gives me a chance to thank TV for all that it’s meant to me.”

Speaking from his living room, the US comedian said his favourite memories of TV were sitting with his grandmother and watching programmes together.

“Tonight isn’t just about the very best of this past year,” he said. “It’s all about the things we love about television. Some of you all thought this celebration would be more subdued […] But that’s not the way this host treats his best friend.”

With a touch of post-production magic, Cedric the Entertainer was then seen in the TV of his living room as he walked on to the Emmys stage, beginning a celebrity rendition of the 1989 Biz Markie classic Just a Friend, honouring the "clown prince of hip-hop", who died in July.

The lyrics of the song were reworked to describe TV as a lifelong friend and contained shout-outs to popular shows including Ted Lasso and Sesame Street. The song began with Cedric the Entertainer rapping beside a dancing TV-headed figure before Headsprung rapper LL Cool J took over, alluding in his verse to how many have found comfort in TV during the pandemic.

Then, in the spontaneous flair of a flash mob, the room at Los Angeles’s Event Deck at LA Live burst into a singalong as Dave “Lil Dicky” Burd, Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and MJ Rodriguez each took their turn performing the song.

But perhaps most surprising was Wilson’s performance, with Sleepless in Seattle star the buzz of the internet since her syllable-hacking performance at the awards show.

Some online even claimed in jest that Wilson was a better rapper than her son, Chet Hanks, and eclipsed his “entire rap career in 10 earnestly awkward seconds”.

The surprise group performance did not trail for long, ending at a perfectly timed four minutes. "This is the Emmys people, that's how we do it," Cedric said as they concluded the song. "RIP to the one and only Biz Markie."

Updated: September 20, 2021, 4:38 AM