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Controversy Over Latin Grammy Ceremony Overshadows Eclectic Group of Nominees

The Latin Grammys, just 2 years old, can't seem to avoid controversy.

Last year, the awards debuted to protests from some artists who felt the nominees, who included Carlos Santana and Ricky Martin, were too mainstream and that the show ignored more traditional Latin artists.

This year, there are no such complaints: Christina Aguilera probably is the most mainstream of the major-category nominees, who include Brazilian bossa nova singer Bebel Gilberto and Colombian rocker Juanes.

But the music has been an afterthought to the bitter fight that led the Recording Academy to pull the awards from Miami less than a month before the ceremony, which is to be held Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The move occurred when academy and local officials in Miami could not agree on where anti-Castro protesters would be permitted to picket the show.

Although pickets are still expected outside the ceremony at the Forum, Recording Academy President Michael Greene insisted they won't overshadow the show inside, which is to feature Jennifer Lopez, Luis Miguel, Destiny's Child and Celia Cruz, among others. Aguilera and Jimmy Smits are the hosts.

Bacilos, a three-member Latin pop band that is up for best new artist, is already tired of the controversy over Miami.

"I worried about it before, but let's not talk about it to give it any importance," said Jorge Villamizar, 30, a Colombian native who lives in Miami.

"We were upset by losing our host status, but on the other hand, who cares?"

The artist with the most nominations is Juanes, a native of Colombia who is up for six awards, including Best New Artist and album of the year, for "Fijate Bien."

"We're delighted to have the most nominated artist a kid from Colombia who nobody's ever heard of," joked Greene. "He's just a legitimate rocker in Colombia and he sings about the very important issues in that country."

Other nominees include Chucho Valdes, the Cuban piano great; Los Tigres Del Norte, one of Mexico's most successful groups; and Spanish crooner Alejandro Sanz.

Villamizar said the industry seems to have favored "creative artists rather than produced artists."

But he said there were still artists who are overlooked.

"I hope we get to a point where it's going to be a fair situation for all the musicians across the Latin world," he said.

Greene says the broader list of nominees this year can be credited to an increase in the number of members eligible to vote.

"We have almost twice as many members as we had last year, and a lot of those people are international members," he said.

The ceremony also was held in Los Angeles last year. The academy had tried to have it in Miami then too, but officials there rejected it, citing a since-rescinded ordinance banning the local government from doing business with any group with Cuban connections. Cuban performers were included in the Latin Grammys shows last year and this year.

In April, after some political wrangling, an agreement was reached to hold this year's Latin Grammys in Miami. But that goodwill collapsed last month when the Recording Academy balked at plans that would have put protesters closer to the ceremony than it wanted.

At least two of Latin music's biggest names have dropped out of the ceremony: Emilio Estefan, one of the genre's most popular producers, and his wife, singer Gloria Estefan, said last week they would not be at the Los Angeles ceremony because of the academy's decision to relocate the show. Both are Miami residents and leaders in the Cuban-American population.

"I totally understand their positions," said Greene. "Not only are they Cuban-Americans, but they also have to live in Miami."

But Greene said no other artists had backed out; others, from Marc Anthony to Shakira and even the ubiquitous Sean "P. Diddy" Combs are expected to attend.

The show will be broadcast live on CBS.