Ailing soul veteran Luther Vandross and street-tough rap newcomer 50 Cent led winners at the American Music Awards with two honors each, setting the tone for an eclectic group of honorees that ranged from Kid Rock and Fleetwood Mac to Missy Elliott and Alabama.
Vandross, who is recovering from a debilitating stroke that threatened to end not only his career but his life, was honored Sunday as best male R&B performer and favorite soul-R&B album for his most recent CD, Dance with My Father, which was completed shortly before he became ill in April.
The 52-year-old singer can speak and walk with assistance, but representatives recently said he remains far from fully recovered. His mother, Mary Vandross, accepted both awards on his behalf.
"I'm so very sorry that Luther cannot be here tonight in person," she told the crowd, after a brief moment of tearful speechlessness. "I'm here to represent him and say thanks to all of you who made this possible."
The Shield star Michael Chiklis walked into the audience to present the second award to the elderly woman, who had difficulty climbing the stage steps the first time.
50 Cent, who did not attend the ceremony, also won two awards: Best male rap artist and best rap-hip-hop album for Get Rich or Die Tryin,' a gritty CD about his many brushes with death on the street.
Britney Spears launched the show by being lowered onstage in a purple corset, black hot pants and thigh-high boots to start the telecast with a pyrotechnic-filled performance of her new song "Me Against the Music."
She was followed by Kid Rock's pounding cover of Bad Company's 1975 anthem "Feel Like Makin' Love," which he screeched under the towering flashing letters L-O-V-E. He claimed the award for favorite male pop-rock artist at the end of the show.
"I'm a rapper, when it comes down to it. That's what I started out as, that's what I'll always be," he said backstage. "I'm just cheating on my girlfriend over there with rock 'n' roll and country and whatnot."
Alabama collected its 23rd American Music Award, this one for favorite country group. The quartet, which is currently on its farewell concert tour, has more AMA wins than any other performer followed by Michael Jackson with 21 and Kenny Rogers with 19.
The late soul songstress Aaliyah was honored as best female R&B artist, her third American Music Award since she died in a plane crash in 2001.
Elliott was late picking up her trophy for female rap-hip-hop artist. "Somebody stole my limo, but I'm here now," she said, taking the stage to collect her prize later in the show. Backstage she told reporters: "Somebody is riding around drinking my drinks and partying on their way to the clubs. There's going to be a reward for y'all."
Faith Hill won for female country performer, and her household received a second award when husband Tim McGraw was chosen favorite male country artist. They also won separate American Music Awards together in 2001 and 2002.
Toby Keith's Unleashed won him his first American Music Award for country album.
Linkin Park won the alternative artist category, while gospel star Steven Curtis Chapman was victorious in the contemporary inspirational class.
Other winners included Ricky Martin for favorite Latin star, and soul veterans The Isley Brothers for best R&B group. Best rap-hip-hop group went to Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, and rock 'n' roll mainstay Fleetwood Mac received the award for favorite rock group.
Justin Timberlake's Justified won favorite pop album, Jennifer Lopez claimed best pop-rock female artist and pop diva Celine Dion was picked favorite adult contemporary artist.
The awards were presented during a live ABC telecast from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as master of ceremonies.
Nominations were based on sales figures and radio play, and winners were selected by a survey of about 20,000 listeners.