Blige leads Grammy noms with 8

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Click here for a complete list of nominees

Mary J. Blige's "The Breakthrough" took on added meaning when nominations were announced Thursday for the 49th annual Grammy Awards. The R&B singer leads the pack with eight noms.

Other key multiple Grammy nominees include Red Hot Chili Peppers (six nominations) and James Blunt, Dixie Chicks, John Mayer, Danger Mouse, Prince, Rick Rubin, Will.i.am and composer John Williams (five each).

Not surprisingly, Blige dominates the R&B categories, where five of her noms originate. But it is the nominations in two marquee categories -- song of the year and record of the year for "Be Without You" -- that signal the crossover commercial and critical appeal Blige achieved with her Geffen album.

"I turned tragedy into triumph, going from victim to victor," an obviously thrilled Blige said in an interview after the morning news conference amid free-for-all mass-media chaos at Hollywood's Music Box@Fonda theater. "And my fans have always been there for me. I'm still human, and this is not making me untouchable. This is making me even more touchable because now I know they're listening to me, and now I'm going to really start talking to them."

For all the accolades "Breakthrough" accumulated, however, it was shut out of the album of the year category.

That aside, as Recording Academy president Neil Portnow noted: "When you have (Blige's) kind of talent and you keep going year after year, your music gets better and better. Then your fan base gets bigger and bigger. It's a wonderful culmination of that this year for her."

Overall, this year's nominations display genre diversity in the major categories and a willingness to embrace new artists. That is evidenced by the multiple noms garnered not only by Blunt but also by alternative duo Gnarls Barkley and U.K. artist Corinne Bailey Rae. All three will compete in the record of the year category with Blige and Dixie Chicks.

Vying for best new artist are singer-songwriter Blunt, Rae, R&B newcomer Chris Brown, "American Idol" graduate Carrie Underwood and a dark-horse nod for U.K. singer-songwriter Imogen Heap.

Blunt, also recognized in the pop album and male pop vocal performance categories, said after the news conference, "To come to a country as big as the states, which is a difficult place to get yourself heard, and be welcomed in this way has really taken me by surprise."

Commenting on stateside acceptance of her work in between texting her husband the good news, fellow U.K. artist and first-time Grammy nominee Rae noted: "I definitely tried to make the record not American-sounding. I think so many British acts think about what producers are doing (stateside) and say, 'Let's copy that.' I just listened a lot to music I love -- Marvin Gaye, Al Green -- and thought of that as a benchmark. Hopefully, mine are good songs that sound a little bit different."

First-time nominee Brown also picked up a second nomination for contemporary R&B album, a category he shares with Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Beyonce and Kelis. Surrounded by flashing cameras and microphones, the excited 17-year-old said that rather than partying he would probably "relax and rest my voice." Brown was set to fly out Friday to perform in the holiday special "Christmas in Washington."

Gnarls Barkley will compete against rock and pop veterans in the album of the year category. Those nominees include Justin Timberlake ("FutureSex/LoveSounds"), the Chili Peppers ("Stadium Arcadium"), Mayer ("Continuum") and Dixie Chicks ("Taking the Long Way").

Timberlake earned three other nominations as well, including best pop album. Also coming in at four noms each were Beyonce, Gnarls Barkley and rapper T.I.

Going beyond the marquee categories, producer of the year nominees include veterans T Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin. They are joined by rock producer Howard Benson, Gnarls Barkley member Danger Mouse and Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am.

On hand to announce the slate of nominees at the Music Box were rapper Ludacris, who picked up two nominations; country act Rascal Flatts, nominated for country performance by a duo or group; Blige; Blunt; Brown; Evanescence's Amy Lee; Rae; Timberlake; and singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, who was nominated for female pop vocal performance.

Given the diversity of this year's slate, some top-selling artists and projects didn't feel Grammy's embrace. Among those are what will likely be 2006's best-selling album, the soundtrack to "High School Musical," plus Rihanna and Sean Paul. Nelly Furtado's inventive hit collaboration with Timbaland, "Promiscuous," garnered only one nom, for best pop collaboration; Timbaland was left off the producer list as well.

The awards will be held Feb. 11 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and be broadcast live on CBS.

Click here for a complete list of nominees
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