NEW YORK – With a leading eight Grammy nominations and a history of Grammy awards, U2 might seem to be in position to sweep the awards on Wednesday.
This is one of those years, however, in which no group is considered a clear favorite, neither the Irish rockers nor other multiple nominees like India.Arie or Alicia Keys.
"There's not an obviously clear-cut winner," said Rick Krim, executive vice president of talent and programming at VH1. "I'm kind of hoping it gets spread around, because there are so many deserving nominees this year."
Some recent ceremonies have been coronations for the year's most successful artist: Santana received a record-tying eight Grammys in 2000 for his multiplatinum comeback, Supernatural; Lauryn Hill took home five the year before that with her solo debut, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."
This year's ceremony in Los Angeles, on the other hand, may more closely follow last year, when the wealth was spread around. Faith Hill, Eminem and U2 were the leaders with three awards each.
Lauryn Hill's five wins were the most ever by a female artist. That could be surpassed Wednesday: India.Arie has seven nominations for her debut, Acoustic Soul, while another soul songbird, Alicia Keys, has six for her first disc, Songs in A Minor.
Other multiple nominees include the rap group OutKast and the soft-rock group Train, which both received five, and Canadian singer Nelly Furtado with four nominations for her debut year.
"This year, there's a pretty broad range. There's a lot of years where you say, 'Why is that in there?"' said Krim. "I don't see that this year."
The diverse nominees for record of the year are India.Arie's self-pride anthem "Video"; OutKast's "Ms. Jackson," an apologetic ode written by member Dre to the mother of his child; the love tune "Drops of Jupiter," by Train; U2's inspirational "Walk On"; and "Fallin," Keys' powerful soul ballad with classical influence.
Three of those five nominees are also represented in the evening's other top category, album of the year: U2 with All You Can't Leave Behind, OutKast for Stankonia and India.Arie for Acoustic Soul. The other nominees are the hit bluegrass soundtrack O Brother Where Art Thou and Bob Dylan's Love and Theft.
Should OutKast win, it would be the first victory for a rap disc. But the funk-rap group from Atlanta is seen as an underdog by industry analysts. The front-runners appear to be the O Brother soundtrack, U2 and Dylan; the latter two have won before in this category. (U2's three awards last year included record and song of the year).
"I'm rooting for OutKast, just because their album was so outstanding ... They are a great addition," said Elayne Fluker, entertainment editor at Essence magazine. "(But) I think even over U2, the academy will vote Dylan."
Dre, of OutKast, also thinks his group has little chance of winning.
"I think they'll throw it to U2 because they're at the end of their rope," he said Thursday, then added: "I think it was a good year for U2."
Though India.Arie is also seen as a longshot for record of the year, it's the award she covets most.
"Because I worked really hard for my album," the 27-year-old said. "It's one of the first things I've ever earned on my own."
Win or lose, she pulled off the biggest upset of the nominations by netting seven. Her critically acclaimed debut has had only moderate commercial success, only recently passing the 1 million mark. By contrast, Alicia Keys' album sold more than 4 million copies and produced one of the year's biggest hits with "Fallin'."
Some Grammy watchers doubt India.Arie can sustain her momentum come awards time. "There's some people who think her big win was getting all those nominations," said Krim.
Fluker also said Keys is likely to take home more trophies because her debut was so spectacular critically and commercially.
"India's star is really going to rise in the years to come," said Fluker.
Keys and India.Arie are also up for best new artist, along with Furtado, rockers Linkin Park and British crooner David Gray.