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WINNERS AND LOSERS
OUR MUSIC CRITIC PREDICTS WHO'S HOT AND WHO'S NOT AT THIS YEAR'S GRAMMY AWARDS

This year's Grammy event is packed with enough sleaze and controversy to make Vince McMahon happy.

With a list of nominees that includes Eminem, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, it almost makes a music fan nostalgic for the good old days of Milli Vanilli.

One nominee, DMX, is on the lam from the Cheektowaga police.

Another, Tim McGraw, may face charges for allegedly roughing up an Erie County Sheriff's Deputy. His lawyers are due for an appearance in an Orchard Park courtroom at 10 a.m. on the day of the Grammy telecast, the Sheriff's Department said.

The Grammy show, which will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS, may turn into an episode of "Cops" for Western New York law enforcement officials.

But it's not only the potential criminals who are gaining attention.

Elton John is not only nominated but the openly homosexual star has agreed to sing a duet with Eminem, best known for his gay-bashing raps and violent lyrics aimed at women.

Put it all together and you have the Grammys, a great American music festival of greed, pomposity and self-serving hypocrisy.

In other words, the record industry in all its glory.

Bela Fleck understands the politics and sometimes baffling nominations that go with the Grammy Awards. The pioneering banjo player, who fuses jazz, bluegrass, rock and classical music, has been nominated 14 times during his career. It took Fleck seven years after his first nomination to crack the Grammy winner's circle.

"They used to call me the Susan Lucci of the Grammys," Fleck, who was nominated for three Grammys this year, said in a recent telephone interview. "Sometimes the voting and the nominations defy logic."

How else to explain why Eminem is nominated for Album of the Year for his CD, "The Marshall Mathers LP."

Eminem told MTV he doesn't, "give a damn about a Grammy," but wants to be there, "because everyone doesn't want (me) there, so I'm going. . ."

Enter Sir Elton.

"I'm a big fan of Eminem's music," John told the London Times, adding Eminem came up with the duet idea. "I know I'm going to get a lot of flak from various people who are going to picket the show."

John and Eminem are scheduled to combine on one of the rapper's numbers called "Stan." It's about a young, violent fan, who kills himself and his girlfriend after Eminem does not answer the fan's letters.

Perhaps, for the finale, Eminem will cut John to pieces with his chainsaw. Think of the ratings!

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has condemned Eminem's album and lyrics as harmful to gays. GLAAD has already indicated it will be protesting at the Grammys due to Eminem's nomination, and so will the National Organization of Women.

Scott Seomin, entertainment and media director of GLAAD, called John's willingness to sing with Eminem, "hurtful and embarrassing."

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which runs the Grammys, had been practically begging Eminem to be at the show. It may cause controversy but should boost ratings and interest.

And Eminem just may go home a winner.

In a Hennessy Music Poll, a national poll of radio personalities, Eminem topped all others in the Album of the Year category with 59 percent of the vote. Paul Simon, Radiohead and Steely Dan each received 11 percent, and Beck earned 8 percent.

Grammy voters, though, may be harder to predict.

"Since I am a Grammy voter, I have an accurate understanding of what it is, and what it isn't," Fleck said. "The people who vote on the Grammys know who you are and what your value is; you want their respect."

Fleck wouldn't comment on how he voted or Eminem. But he did say a nomination doesn't mean "you have respect or you made the best record in that category. It means recognition."

Fleck's CD, "Outbound," earned a nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. He earned another nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Performance with the song, "Zona Mona." Fleck also played on Allison Brown's "Leaving Cottondale," which was nominated for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

"Winning a Grammy isn't going to make or break a career," Fleck, who plays the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on March 13, said. "I waited a long time to get one, and although being nominated is nice, it's better when you get to the other side and actually win."

Winning a Grammy is also the goal of several nominees with local ties.

Sunshine Records, a small polka label out of Buffalo, earned a nomination for the second consecutive year. "Let's Dance!" a polka album by Walter Ostanek, was nominated in the Best Polka category.

"Walter already has a couple of Grammys, so maybe this year we'll win one," said Michael Nowakowski, who runs Sunshine Records out of the basement of his house. Ostanek, from Canada, has been nominated 11 times and has won three times, Nowakowski said.

Brian McKnight, who grew up in Buffalo, is nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal and Best Male Pop Vocal.

The late Grover Washington Jr., a Buffalo native, was nominated in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category.

Here are the main categories and predictions:

Record of the Year

"Say My Name," Destiny's Child

"I Try," Macy Gray

"Music," Madonna

"Bye Bye Bye," 'N Sync

"Beautiful Day," U2

The skinny: This category shows what a mediocre year it was for pop music. We pick U2, but money talks and 'N Sync sold more records than anyone else and should get the nod.

Album of the Year

"Midnight Vultures," Beck

"The Marshall Mathers LP," Eminem

"Kid A," Radiohead

"You're the One," Paul Simon

"Two Against Nature," Steely Dan

The skinny: Radiohead and Paul Simon made extraordinary albums, and we like Simon in a tight finish. Grammy may go to Eminem for selling nearly 8 million copies of his hate music.

Song of the Year

"Beautiful Day," U2

"Breathe," Faith Hill

"I Hope You Dance," Lee Ann Womack

"I Try," Macy Gray

"Say My Name," Destiny's Child

The skinny: Lee Ann Womack gets our pick and also the Grammy.

Best New Artist

Shelby Lynne

Brad Paisley

Papa Roach

Jill Scott

Sisqo

The skinny: We like Jill Scott, a soulful star in the making, but the Grammy goes to the thong man named Sisqo.

Best Female Pop Vocal

"What a Girl Wants," Christina Aguilera

"I Try," Macy Gray

"Music," Madonna

"Save Me," Aimee Mann

"Both Sides Now," Joni Mitchell

"Oops! . . . I Did It Again," Britney Spears

The skinny: How could Joni Mitchell lose to Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera? Well, Mitchell's song is nearly 35 years old, and that's almost more years than the combined ages of Aguilera and Spears. We like Macy Gray, but Aguilera gets the Grammy.

Best Male Pop Vocal

"You Sang to Me," Marc Anthony

"Taking You Home," Don Henley

"She Bangs," Ricky Martin

"6,8,12," Brian McKnight

"She Walks This Earth," Sting

The skinny: Grammy goes to hip-shaking Martin but our vote belongs to McKnight.

Best Rock Song

"Again," Lenny Kravitz

"Bent," Matchbox Twenty

"Californication," Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Kryptonite," 3 Doors Down

"With Arms Wide Open," Creed

The skinny: Two deserving songs by the Peppers and 3 Doors Down and our vote goes to the Chili crew. Grammy goes to Creed.

Best Rock Album

"Crush," Bon Jovi

"There is Nothing Left to Lose," Foo Fighters

"Mad Season," Matchbox Twenty

"Return of Saturn," No Doubt

"The Battle of Los Angeles," Rage Against the Machine

The skinny: Bad year for rock; Rage broke up but gets our vote; Matchbox Twenty wins the Grammy.

Best Country Song

"Breathe," Faith Hill

"Feels Like Love," Vince Gill

"I Hope You Dance," Lee Ann Womack

"One Voice," Billy Gilman

"The Way You Love Me," Faith Hill

The skinny: Faith Hill is everywhere and little Billy Gilman gets the youth vote, but we like Womack. The Grammy goes to Vince Gill.