NEW YORK - At first, Amy Winehouse was heralded as a gifted new artist with an amazing album. Now she's known for erratic behavior and alleged substance abuse - but today's Grammy nominations should put the focus back on her music.
Though the singer-songwriter has endured a slew of personal setbacks in recent months, industry insiders expect her to be among the top nominees when the Recording Academy announces its contenders in Los Angeles.
"Amy Winehouse is incredible. I think she should have got a little more positive recognition," said singer-songwriter Ne-Yo. Grammy-winning producer John Shanks called Winehouse's album "Back to Black," which included the telling hit "Rehab," "an important record."
"I don't think her troubles are really going to hurt her. I think the sound of that album made an impact," Shanks added.
Another likely multiple nominee is Kanye West, thanks to his third album, "Graduation." The critically acclaimed disc had the year's biggest debut, selling nearly 1 million copies in its first week, an amazing feat during the industry's current struggles. The CD has already generated three hits, including the anthems "Stronger" and "Good Life."
While West has won several Grammys in his relatively short career, they have all come in the rap categories, despite being nominated twice for album of the year. That may change if he is nominated for best album, record or song of the year.
But he may face tough competition from some legendary veterans. Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen released acclaimed albums this year; McCartney's "Memory Almost Full" was full of cheerful nostalgia; Springsteen's "Magic" marked his return to full-fledged rock.
"I do think Bruce's album is excellent," said Shanks. "I think we live in a time of a collection of singles. . . . Someone like Springsteen is actually setting out to write an album and there's continuity."
As far as top singles, Beyonce's acoustic gem "Irreplaceable," one of the most ubiquitous songs of 2007, is a heavy favorite. It could earn her nominations for record and song of the year, as well as for best female pop vocal.
Ne-Yo, who co-wrote that song, could get a song-of-the-year nomination, but says he's more excited to get mentions for his own hit album, "Because of You."
"'Irreplaceable' did really really great things, so it would be cool to win that," he said. "But if I were to be nominated for best male R&B and take it, for my peers to tell me that I was the best in male R&B this year, that would be really great."
Fergie, who is scheduled to help read the nominations today, could be another multiple nominee. She had two huge hits, including "Glamorous" and the more likely record-of-the-year nominee, the tender ballad "Big Girls Don't Cry."
"Everyone loves her; I think she's going to get a lot of nods," said Shirley Halperin, senior music writer for Entertainment Weekly.
Rihanna could also find herself nominated for "Umbrella," another ubiquitous song of 2007. "To me 'Umbrella' is the song of the year," says Shanks. "It works as an R&B song, you can play that song on an acoustic guitar and it would still work . . . It still works however way you dress that thing up."
In the best new artist category, 18-year-old country sensation Taylor Swift is a likely nominee. And a year after "American Idol" winner-turned-country-superstar Carrie Underwood took home the trophy, Chris Daughtry's eponymous band, which had multiplatinum success with its self-titled album, could be nominated. Other contenders could include singer-songwriter Feist and Robin Thicke. And Winehouse, who Halperin says has an "overwhelming presence in the music industry.
"She's on the tip of people's tongues," says Halperin.
"My dad listens to Amy Winehouse, and he doesn't listen to anything current. She's crossed these age barriers, and she has universal appeal." *