Grammy darlings Crow and Raitt, who would be nominated for singing the phone book, delivered solid but unspectacular turns and are the clear also-rans here. If Carey were up for "We Belong Together" (for reasons that we don't understand, her performance of that hit was relegated to the R&B category), our choice would be a no-brainer. Although the octave-leaping diva displays unusual restraint on "It's Like That," her vocal is almost too understated. With a kitschy-cool performance that falls somewhere between singing and rapping, Stefani doesn't quite fit here. So we're cheering for Clarkson for fiercely letting loose her inner Pat Benatar and exorcising the ghost of American Idol.
Best New Artist
Fall Out Boy
We can think of at least a few talented newbies missing here: folk-soul man Amos Lee, old-school R&B belter Leela James, virtuoso singer-guitarist Raúl Midón. Any of those certainly would have made a better selection than crunk princess Ciara, who earned her spot on the strength of a double-platinum debut, Goodies, and a string of hit singles. And while the punk-pop band Fall Out Boy had a breakthrough year in 2005, they're neither new (they released their first album, Take This to Your Grave, in 2003) nor particularly good. Sugarland adequately fills the designated country slot, but we can't really see the trio bringing home the award to Nashville. Although Hopes and Fears had us keen on Keane, the Coldplay knockoffs lose points for originality. It seemed as if eight-time nominee Legend was destined to win this award when Get Lifted came out in December 2004. Time has only made the neo-soul singer-pianist a more obvious choice. There's nothing ordinary about his kind of people.