Grammy nominees announced

An all-star lineup of top recording artists made an early morning trek to the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s Grand Ballroom to help announce this year’s crop of nominees for the 44th Annual Grammy Awards, a trek most found worthwhile.

The most bleary-eyed of all was Motown’s soul songstress India.Arie, who was suddenly wide-awake after hearing her named nominee in some of the top categories. All in all, Arie snared seven nominations for her debut album Acoustic Soul, including the prestigious Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist categories, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album.

Equally excited was the pint-sized, ponytailed pop phenom in pink standing next to Arie, singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado, who squealed excitedly after she earned four Grammy nominations (Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Female Vocal Performance).

Joining the two songbirds onstage for the announcements were an eclectic assortment of recording industry standouts who also earned their own nominations: girl group Destiny’s Child (Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal), Train lead singer Pat Monahan (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal), rapper Ja Rule (Best Rap Album, Best Rap performance by a Duo or Group, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration), rock goddess Stevie Nicks (Best Female Rock Vocal Performance), country chanteuse Jamie O’Neil (Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song), fabled R&B producer Jimmy Jam (Producer of the Year), actor/writer/director Carl Reiner (Best Spoken Word Album) and R&B sensation Usher (Best Male R&B Performance).

“That’s good news, isn’t it?” asked Usher, grinning ear-to-ear as he took the podium.

Though not present, U2 and Alicia Keys dominated the nominations as powerfully as they dominated the sales charts over the last year.

The Irish supergroup’s acclaimed album All That You Can’t Leave Behind provided fodder for eight nominations in several coveted categories, including Record of the Year (“Walk On”), Album of the Year, Song of the Year (“Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”), Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (“Stuck In a Moment…”), Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (“Elevation”) and Best Rock Album. The group also faces stiff competition from itself, as two of its songs, “Elevation” and “Walk On” will be vying for the Best Rock Song honor. Since 1987 U2 has walked off with 10 Grammys out of 20 nominations.

Meanwhile, singer/songwriter Keys–easily the most heralded new talent of the past year–was singled out in six categories for music from her debut album Songs In A-Minor and her smash hit “Fallin’,” including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Performance, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Album.

The late singer/actress Aaliyah may be gone but was not forgotten, garnering two posthumous nominations, for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

Several Hollywood stars and projects earned intriguing nods. Comedian Steve Martin was nominated for his banjo work on the jam “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” from Earl Scruggs and Friends. His fellow comics Ray Romano, Margaret Cho and George Carlin received nods in the more logical Best Spoken Comedy Album slot. And it’s good to be the king: Mel Brooks was tapped for Best Long Form Music Video with “Recording the Producers: A Musical Romp With Mel Brooks.”

Ann-Margret was honored for Best Southern Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album, while Vanessa Redgrave and Tim Curry were each nominated for dramatic performances on albums in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category. Rob Lowe, Noah Wyle, Joan Allen and Tom Brokaw were singled out in the Best Spoken Word Album for their voice work on War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars.

Nominees for Best Score Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media include A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Men of Honor, Planet of the Apes and Traffic.

Competing for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media are Bridget Jones’s Diary, Moulin Rouge, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Shrek and The Sopranos: Peppers & Eggs.

The 44th Annual Grammy Awards will be held Feb. 27 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast at 8 p.m. PT/ET on CBS.