PASADENA, Calif. — “Fear God. Judgment Day Is Coming.”
A white-bearded man across the street from the Pasadena Civic Center held an ominous sign for the stars and fans who attended the 29th annual People’s Choice Awards, but it was the judgment of the general public that provided support for a couple of female country acts.
Hill won the trophy for favorite female musical performer, besting Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez in the category. It marked the third straight year Hill has claimed the award.
“I’m being a little greedy, aren’t I?” she joked backstage.
Shania Twain won the same award in 2000, meaning country stars have claimed the female trophy each of the last four years. In fact, added to a phenomenal streak assembled by Reba McEntire , country stars have taken the musical female trophy nine of the last 10 years.
The Dixie Chicks won their first People’s Choice honor, as they tied hard rock band Creed for favorite musical group or band, ending a three-year winning streak for pop boy bands. ‘N Sync, which won each of the last two years, were shut out in the process.
Alan Jackson was also nominated for favorite male musical performer, although he lost out to controversial rapper Eminem.
Both Hill and the Chicks made a point of thanking their fans, appropriate since the People’s Choice Awards are one of the few TV awards shows — including the CMT Flameworthy Awards and the American Music Awards — that are determined by the public, rather than the entertainment industry.
“We just wanna thank the fans,” Chicks vocalist Natalie Maines said in a taped acceptance speech. “Every year we’re in this business, we become more appreciative of you.” In addition, she hailed the audience as “the most important part of our career.”
The Chicks sent their message from Austin where they were holed up in a recording studio.
The honor came just five days after the Chicks scored a quartet of nominations for the Grammy awards, including a nod for album of the year for their Home project, their first release in three years. The album has already been certified for shipments of 3 million copies, less than five months after it first hit the market.
Home mixes serious messages about love, family and social issues with the trio’s trademark sarcasm — a trait fiercely in evidence during their short speech. Maines concluded that speech by poking fun at a recent news event, noting that fans were outside the studio waiting for an appearance by the Chicks, then said they needed to go see those fans and “dangle Michael Jackson over the balcony.”
Dressed in a black, leather jacket and cream dress, Hill left her seat next to hubby Tim McGraw to accept her trophy.
“We are all here tonight because of you, and because of the people, and because of our fans,” Hill said. “We’re only able to do this because of the fans, and we love doing entertaining so much.” Hill also sent out a hello to her three daughters — Gracie, Maggie and Audrey — and added, “God bless America.”
Asked backstage if her future records would lean as heavily toward pop music as her recent Cry album did, she was unable to give any definitive answer. “I just make music, and that’s how I’ve always approached making my records,” she insisted. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do that for many, many years to come.”
She likewise could not specify any details on a forthcoming tour, saying only that it would be “hopefully soon,” and that a concert tour is both a “big deal” and “a circus.” She did say, however, that her latest honor is likely to find a home “next to the soccer trophy Gracie won last year.”
With her three awards, Hill is now in fifth place on the list of the most-honored country figures in People’s Choice history. Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers are tied for the lead with a dozen wins apiece. McEntire and Barbara Mandrell have each picked up nine People’s Choice trophies.
The Dixie Chicks became only the second country act in history to win the award for favorite musical group or band. Alabama , which began its farewell tour on New Year’s Eve, claimed favorite musical group 10 years ago.
Though country performed well at the People’s Choice Awards, the bulk of the show was reserved for Hollywood. Thirteen of the 16 trophies were TV and film-related. Winners included Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson and Jennifer Aniston, who required a cane to reach the stage for her acceptance speech. Among the films and series that won were CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Friends and Days of Our Lives.
One of those winners, however, has a unique tie to country music. Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, which was named favorite new television comedy series, stars John Ritter, the son of Country Music Hall of Fame member Tex Ritter .
The importance of the fan awards was underscored by Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano backstage at the People’s Choice ceremony. Raymond has been generally overlooked in the industry-voted Golden Globes, but Romano, who took favorite male television performer Sunday night, insisted that recognition by the audience is much more important than the views of peers and critics.
“If the people like you,” he said, “that’s the bottom line.”
On the People’s judgment day, country’s bottom line looked quite healthy.