Janet Jackson kicked off the American Music Awards with a medley of some of her biggest hits, but it was her late brother Michael who was poised to be one of the night's big winners, up for five American Music Awards, including entertainer of the year.
Jackson's performance didn't acknowledge her late brother, as she did at the MTV Video Music Awards, but it did remind fans of her own long career, and perhaps of her just-released greatest-hits album, "Number Ones."
Incidentally, Michael Jackson's nominations are for his 2003 album of the same name, which surged in popularity after he died in June at age 50. Country cutie Taylor Swift topped the King of Pop with six nominations, and she won one for best pop/rock female in the show's first hour. Both are up for the night's biggest honor — artist of the year — along with Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga and Eminem.
The Black Eyed Peas and Rascal Flatts were also early winners Sunday, named best pop/rock and country groups respectively.
Even more than awards, the AMAs is about performances, and they came back to back to back Sunday. After Janet Jackson's show-opener, which featured four familiar hits and her new single, Daughtry, Keith Urban and Shakira performed. The Colombian songbird was flanked by a dozen dancers in tiny black bodysuits. Kelly Clarkson performed a stripped down version of her hit "Already Gone," backed by a string quartet.
The American Music Awards honor the year's top-selling artists in the categories of pop/rock, country, rap/hip-hop, soul/R&B, alternative, adult contemporary, Latin and contemporary inspirational. Fans voted online to select the winners.
"The AMAs are like the loose, crazy cousin of the music awards," said rocker Melissa Etheridge, who was to be a presenter on the show, shortly before it began. "They've been around a long time, and they tend to go with whatever is really popular. It's everything. It's a whole big pot all stuck in together, and I love that."
Swift has enjoyed a chart-topping year with her crossover album "Fearless," is up for favorite album in the pop/rock and country categories among other awards.
Jackson is nominated for male artist and favorite album in the pop/rock and soul/R&B categories.
Eminem has four nominations: Pop/rock male artist and rap/hip-hop artist and album for "Relapse," along with artist of the year. Lady Gaga and Kings of Leon have three nods each. She's up for female artist and album for her debut, "The Fame," and the Nashville quartet is up for alternative artist and favorite pop/rock band.
Other triple-nominees include Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas and T.I.