McGraw, Chicks and McBride Snag AMA Awards

LOS ANGELES — It wasn’t exactly a landslide, but the Dixie Chicks outperformed the rest of the country crowd during the 30th annual American Music Awards Monday (Jan. 13) night.

The Austin-based trio grabbed a pair of honors, doubling the number of AMAs they’ve added to their trophy rooms since they first took favorite new country artist during the 1999 ceremony. The Chicks were not on hand at the Shrine Auditorium for the fan-voted event and did not send in a videotaped acceptance speech as they did the night before at the People’s Choice Awards. But their presence was still felt, as they wrestled the prize for favorite country band, duo or group from Brooks & Dunn , and took favorite country album, for their Home project.

Tim McGraw kicked off the show by performing a duet with Elton John on “Tiny Dancer.” Oddly enough, by the time McGraw won favorite male country artist during the last 30 minutes of the three-hour telecast, he had already left the building, en route back to Nashville. It marked the third straight year that McGraw has claimed that prize, placing him in elite territory. Only Garth Brooks , Kenny Rogers and Randy Travis have taken home that trophy three years running. In fact, McGraw was the only 2002 winner in any category of any genre to repeat at the ’03 awards.

Martina McBride finally snagged her first AMA, taking home the favorite female country artist honors. Coincidentally, her former back-up singer, Carolyn Dawn Johnson , staked a claim as favorite new female country artist.

“Awards are great,” McBride said backstage. “To me, the real awards are when the people buy your records and go to your shows. But the awards from the industry, and the fan-voted awards, are just a little extra recognition. They’re exciting. Face it, you’re not gonna get the chance to do this forever, so I just take each nomination and make the most of it and really enjoy it.”

For Johnson, it was much more enjoyable knowing that she could share the evening with her former boss, even if they had not yet been able to spend time together. CDJ recalled that at the Academy of Country Music Awards last May, they performed a similar feat: Johnson won the trophy for top new female vocalist, while McBride snared top female vocalist.

“She’s watched me grow, and I toured with her and played guitar and sang background for her, and she’s been a big support,” Johnson said. “It’s very sweet when it happens like this.”

It also happens that both singers are working on new albums. Johnson started recording at the end of 2002 and says she hopes to have her second album finished by April. McBride also is recording new material although she did not project a release date. She did note, however, that she’ll be touring with Alan Jackson .

Rap artist Eminem was the big winner for the evening, taking four honors in the pop/rock and hip-hop/R&B categories.

Despite the evening’s concentration on the best of 2002, the AMAs also looked beyond the confines of the calendar year. Alabama , which just began its farewell tour on New Year’s Eve, received a special Award of Merit with tributes from Reba McEntire , George Strait , retired NASCAR driver Richard Petty and former President George Bush, who hailed the band for its “lifelong love of home, state and country.”

With the honor, Alabama became the most-awarded act in AMA history, having received 22 trophies. Included in that mass is a phenomenal run in which they took the award for favorite country band, duo or group 16 times in a 17-year period. They enjoyed several other significant marks during a career that spanned more than 20 years and opened Music Row to the concept of groups as a viable format for country acts. The band scored 32 No. 1 singles in Billboard magazine, including a record 21 consecutively from 1980-1987. They also piled up 22 gold albums with two of those releases — Greatest Hits and Mountain Music — selling in excess of 5 million copies. And they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Yet they reflected more intently on the years in which they struggled. Lead singer Randy Owen made it a point to “remember our pals back in the Myrtle Beach days, at the Bowery, the people that put tips in the tip bucket, the people that started the fights and the people that saved the band.”

Drummer Mark Herndon also thanked his wife “for enduring this chaos we call a career.”

But that chaos — complete with long trips on a rumbling bus — is about to come to an end. Bassist Teddy Gentry told the media backstage that he would miss the moments on stage, but “what we won’t miss is gettin’ on the bus and bein’ away from our families for days and weeks at a time.”

“You do the music for free,” Herndon echoed, “but you get paid for leavin’ home. That’s the hard part.”

Several country stars did music during Monday’s three-hour AMAs. In addition to the McGraw duet with Elton John, Kenny Chesney contributed a solid performance of “Young,” Toby Keith hooked up with Willie Nelson to deliver “Beer for My Horses” and Shania Twain offered a medley of her recent single “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” and her new release, “Up!”

Twain indicated backstage that while a concert tour is still in the works, it won’t take place until at least the fall. Though it will likely put her in large arenas, she admitted that — much like Alabama — she longs occasionally for the simpler days when the audiences were smaller but more intimate.

“Sometimes I really do miss the clubs,” she said, quickly adding, “I thought I’d never say it. I spent so many years singing in clubs that sometimes I do find the [arena] audience [is] just so far away. Sometimes I’m tempted when I’m walkin’ down the street and I hear a band playin’ in a club, I’m tempted just to walk in there and get up on stage in that environment.”

The environment for Monday was TV. Millions of viewers witnessed the performances in their living rooms, and the exposure alone made it a significant night for country music.

It was not a landslide for any particular artist, but, as McBride put it, it was “icing on the cake.”