PEAKING

KANYE WEST: The cosmopolitan Chicagoan has more nominations this year than anybody else. And public sympathy will be with the notorious egomaniac in the aftermath of his mother Donda's untimely death.

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CLIMBING

ALTERNATIVE SOUL: Those nominees you don't know -- sultry baby maker Vikter Duplaix, jazzy fella Dwele, Bay Area fave Ledisi and N.Y. boho Alice Smith? They're part of a neo-soul movement transforming R&B; from the roots up.

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'ELLA'-VATED: Quietly accruing six nominations, Rihanna continues her transformation from pop princess to Caribbean queen. She'll show off her killer pipes with Morris Day's reunited band, the Time.

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AT BASE CAMP

WINNERS IN THE WINGS: Alicia Keys has two nods and the team of Robert Plant-Alison Krauss has just one, for singles released before their albums came out after the deadline. Watch for them both to loom large at next year's Grammys.

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TOM HIGGENSON: The Plain White T's frontman finally got a date with Delilah DiCrescenzo , the subject of his ubiquitous song of the year-nominated tune. He's taking her to the Grammys! (With her boyfriend's permission.)

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PARAMORE: The emo-pop quartet likely won't win new artist but the Grammys need a vaguely "alternative" rock band to love, and with Foo Fighters getting long in the tooth, neo-riot grrrl Hayley Williams and her boys might be in line for the job.

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LOOKING FOR A SHERPA

AMY WINEHOUSE: The retro-soul party monster's drug-scapades have gone from tragic to tedious. The worst thing is that Winehouse has more potential for greatness than most of her competition.

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MICHAEL JACKSON: The Gloved One was invited to mark the 25th anniversary of "Thriller" with a splashy set, but he vainly demanded an on-air award too. Grammy producers came back with the right answer: "Just beat it."

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NASHVILLE: Country insiders grumbled that last year's show dissed Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood, and now, Vince Gill may be the only album of the year nominee who doesn't perform. Maybe it's no country for old men . . . or the Grammys.

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