Fans Favor Faith With AMA Trophies

Hill Takes Three Honors for Country, Pop; Gilman Gets First

LOS ANGELES — Faith-ful followers made sure Faith Hill won.

Hill took home three trophies last night from the 28th annual American Music Awards, televised live from the Shrine Auditorium via ABC-TV. Breathe captured the Favorite Country Album honor, while Hill received nods from the fans as the favorite female in both the country and pop/rock categories. To win the latter award, she bested pop singers Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion and Britney Spears, who co-hosted the show with rapper LL Cool J.

In the process, Hill became the first country artist to decisively top all award-winners on the show since Randy Travis in 1988. The last country artist to dominate the awards by crossing over was Kenny Rogers, in 1981 and ’82.

Hill did not perform on the show, but she was present with husband Tim McGraw to collect her goodies.

“I feel kind of like, stingy, all of a sudden,” she said, while claiming the last award of the evening.

Hill should be used to winning at this point in time. Since she released Breathe in November 1999, she’s been named the Top Female Vocalist by the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and by country fans through Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards. “Breathe” also picked up top video honors from the ACM, and garnered Hill a Grammy nomination last week, as well as a song of the year nomination for its songwriters, Stephanie Bentley and Holly Lamar. If that’s not enough, the single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, and the album has sold 5 million copies.

“The awards are kind of a gauge,” McGraw, who also won favorite country male, said backstage last night, at Hill’s side. “It doesn’t matter if it’s from your peers or the [fans]. It’s a test of where your career’s at. It’s always a good barometer for us.”

The barometer reads favorably for McGraw, as well. He is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for both the CMA and ACM.

Twelve-year-old Billy Gilman, who announced his arrival last May with a dynamic performance at the ACMs in Los Angeles, repeated the feat last night. He performed “One Voice” on a stage spangled with pencil lights, receiving a standing ovation from the astonished crowd.

“He’s an amazing little guy, isn’t he?” Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson beamed backstage.

Indeed, Gilman won the first major award of his career, laying claim to country’s Best New Artist honor, ahead of Keith Urban and Alecia Elliott. In the process, he became the youngest singer ever to win a country AMA, surpassing LeAnn Rimes, who was all of 14 when she took the same trophy.

“I’m so honored to be so young and to do this,” he observed backstage.

It appears to be just the beginning for Gilman. He intends to return to the studio in February or March to begin working on a new album, perhaps with Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, among the first to believe in him, helping out in some capacity. Gilman is already using some wise caution in mapping out his career, planning to change some key signatures on the next project.

“We’re gonna do a different type of album,” he explained. “It’s not gonna be high, high. It’s gonna be medium. It’s gonna be cool, so I can’t wait.”

In addition, Gilman said he’s been approached about making appearances on TV’s Seventh Heaven and Touched by an Angel, although he said, “Singing’s my main goal for right now.”

Martina McBride performed her current single, “It’s My Time,” on the AMAs, with SHeDAISY singing “I Will…But.”

Other country acts making an appearance on the show included Kenny Chesney, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar, LeAnn Rimes and Brooks & Dunn, who joined former Star Trek actor William Shatner in presenting the first-ever Internet award, based on fan voting on the World Wide Web. Hill was up for that honor, which was not included in the nominee tallies, although the trophy went to Backstreet Boys. She also missed out on Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist, claimed by Celine Dion.

The only other country award went to the Dixie Chicks, who won their first American Music Award as the Favorite Country Band, Duo or Group. The Chicks were not in attendance, however.

Hill and McGraw sat in the front row at the awards, surrounded by such acts as Gilman, ’N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Toni Braxton. From their vantage point, the odd apparel of Britney Spears’ dancers was particularly apparent. Several of the female dancers writhed on stage in mens’ briefs, and Hill was quick to reference that point when she accepted her first award:

“I was gonna wear my husband’s underwear, but it had a hole in it.”

She attempted to clarify the statement backstage, but did little to affirm McGraw’s attention to fashion detail.

“I was trying to be funny,” she said. “But most men’s underwear that I’ve seen has a hole in it.”

McGraw and Hill planned a pseudo-California celebration when the show ended at 8 p.m. Pacific time. They intended to go out for sushi.

And Hill said backstage that the romance has definitely not gone out of the marriage.

“One time,” she recounted, “Tim picks me up in the house, and he has someone pack a suitcase for me and blindfolds me and we go to the airport, get on the plane, and go to an island. He didn’t tell me where we were going until we were on the plane, in the air.”

When they get on the plane to return to Nashville, they’ll need to discuss where they want to put last night’s trophies.