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McGraw, Hill Add AMAs to Trophy Case
LOS ANGELES -- The McGraw-Hill house continued to publish new chapters in its ongoing awards story at the 29th American Music Awards Wednesday (Jan. 9).

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill repeated as favorite country male and female artists, respectively, while McGraw also nabbed favorite country album for Set This Circus Down during ceremonies at the Shrine Auditorium.

Some 23 awards in total were handed out, ranging from Latin music to alternative, with Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn and Trick Pony also taking honors in country categories.

McGraw was the only male act to gain dual honors, while R&B artists Destiny's Child, Alicia Keys and the late Aaliyah also took two trophies each.

McGraw was uniquely positioned, however, to hit the stage three times. In addition to making the two speeches when he won, he also accepted on behalf of Hill, who did not attend.

"We've had a great year," he said for her, "and we're happy to still be around, playin' music."

The singer was expected to fly out immediately after the awards and said he would arrive home around 1:30 a.m. in Nashville, where Hill was looking after their children.

Recent reports in the tabloids have indicated that their latest child, born in December, is in ill health, but McGraw insisted they have taken the stories in stride.

"It would probably be different," he smiled, "if there was truth to it."

The twosome has won as a couple numerous times. They won the male and female awards at last year's AMAs and the corresponding trophies from the Country Music Association in 2000. They won a Grammy as a couple last February and have been particularly successful at the Academy of Country Music awards. The ACMs named them the top male and female vocalists in both 1999 and 2000, gave them the vocal event trophy as a couple in '99 and showered them with trophies in four categories the previous year for their first duet, "It's Your Love."

McGraw said backstage Wednesday night that they "hope to do a duet album somewhere down the line." Meanwhile, they each have solo projects slated by the end of 2002, and, McGraw added, "we got some shows we're gonna do." He played down the possibility of another arena tour, such as 2000's Soul 2 Soul Tour, but suggested they "might pop up at a few clubs."

Additionally, McGraw tipped his hat figuratively to Brooks, saying "without Garth Brooks, I wouldn't be here. I think he opened the door for a lot of country artists. He put us in the mainstream."

Brooks won a special Award of Merit at the show, putting him in an elite category with figures such as Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Billy Joel, to whom Brooks presented the same award three years ago.

"The memories of giving it to Billy Joel years ago just kept flooding back," Brooks told media backstage.

Though he has retired from touring, Brooks continues to maintain a public persona. He held out the possibility that he'll play baseball at spring training for the third year, indicating that he has meetings on the subject in approximately 10 days. Brooks has played for the Padres and the Mets in the past, raising money for his Touch 'Em All Foundation. When he performed the first of three network TV specials in Los Angeles in November, he indicated he was talking with two teams, one of them based on the West Coast.

"I'm turning 40 in February," he said last night, "so I don't know if my ass can handle it anymore. The charity's going great, though, and the kids deserve the money."

Brooks said he would like to attend this year's Grammy awards with fellow singer Trisha Yearwood, setting himself up for a bit of competition. Brooks is nominated along with George Jones for best country collaboration, for their performance of "Beer Run," which competes against Yearwood's duet with Don Henley, "Inside Out."

Brooks was also the lone country artist to address the acrimony between the Grammys and the AMAs. In December, AMA producer Dick Clark filed a $10 million lawsuit against Grammy chief Michael Greene, charging that the executive has instituted a so-called blacklisting policy that bans artists who perform on the American Music Awards from also performing on the Grammys.

The two awards entities have clashed over the issue in the past, but Clark finally took it to court after Greene allegedly told Michael Jackson he would have to make a choice between the two shows. Jackson already had committed to perform on last night's show but reneged after that conversation and only appeared long enough to accept his award.

"Artists shouldn't have to choose between the Grammys and the AMAs," Brooks said backstage. "I know people from both sides, I know them well. When you get to the thing where all you're tryin' to do is eliminate the other, then the only thing that suffers is the music and the people who make it. I would say, 'Back off, you're nothin' without the artists. Let the artists make their choices, and if they'd like to play both television shows, I'd like to see 'em twice.'"

Brooks' feelings were shared by Mark McGrath, lead singer for the pop/rock band Sugar Ray, and Sheryl Crow, a country Grammy nominee for her version of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" on the album Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute.

"I think this'll be the last year that we see that," she predicted. "It doesn't really happen in the film world, that I notice, and I think it would be really good next year not to have that feud."

Trick Pony's win for favorite new country artist put a cap on a feud between bass player Ira Dean and competitor Blake Shelton. Both artists actually believed Jamie O'Neal would take the trophy, but, Dean admitted, "we kept raggin' each other."

So when Trick Pony won, Dean made a point of delivering a message to Shelton: "Man, I'm buying the beer tonight!"

Shortly after their win, all three Pony members were on cellphones in the wings at the same time, each of them telling their parents the good news.

The feeling wasn't quite so new for Brooks & Dunn. After 10 years, the duo has tucked away a slew of trophies in an array of shows, with last night's win for favorite country band, duo or group marking their third AMA victory.

This win felt different, however. Prior to last year's Steers & Stripes album, they experienced the first lull in their career. They began to feel like some of their boosters in the industry were looking elsewhere, and it provided a challenge for them.

"When you've been lucky enough to have a career as long as we have in this business, people like to root for the underdog," Ronnie Dunn suggested. "Psychologically, whether or not that's a fact, it helped."

"We had gotten to a place," Kix Brooks affirmed, "where, I don't know if complacency was the right word. [After] 10 years ... we had a spot there for the first time where we felt like we could lose our career -- we might be on the downside, we might be on the way out. We stared each other in the eye and said, 'We gotta do something special.'"

For a handful of country acts, the 2002 AMAs were something quite special to add to the resume.
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