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USHER IN A NEW ERA OF HIS CAREER POP-R&B SINGER WINS 4 HONORS, OUTKAST THREE.

Byline: Fred Shuster Music Writer

Pop-r&b sensation Usher, whose fab abs and muscular string of dance-pop hits made him the year's king of pop, was crowned winner of the American Music Awards on Sunday, taking top honors in all four categories in which he was nominated.

The 26-year-old from Atlanta was named Favorite Male Artist in both the pop-rock and soul-r&b races of the 32nd annual show, broadcast from the Shrine Auditorium, in the first Hollywood trophy fest of the awards season. The singer's ``Confessions'' album, which sold more than 1 million copies in its first week, won in both divisions as well.

``I just want to thank all the lovely ladies,'' the man born Usher Raymond told the squealing crowd after beating out R. Kelly, Prince and ``American Idol'' Ruben Studdard.

``This is one of the greatest days of my career,'' he said backstage.

Coming three months before the 107-category Grammy Awards, the AMAs offered an unusually large number of live acts, as well as a good idea of which big names will grab Grammy gold on Feb. 13. Included among the 17 performers were show opener Gwen Stefani, Lenny Kravitz, Jessica Simpson, Rod Stewart, and Usher with Alicia Keys, singing their chart-topper ``My Boo.''

The weekend death of rapper O.D.B. was on some minds at the glittery event downtown.

``Rest in peace,'' said Big Boi of OutKast, the hip-hop duo which won three awards, the second-highest after Usher. O.D.B., also known as Ol' Dirty Bastard, was a founding member of the rap group the Wu-Tang Clan.

Neptunes producer-rapper Pharrell, who joined Snoop Dogg to perform their current hit ``Drop It Like It's Hot,'' said the death proved the rap world ``should stick together and show a little more love so it won't hurt as much next time. He was a great guy, a nice guy.''

Atlanta's OutKast, which won three Grammys this year, earned trophies in pop-rock and rap/hip-hop for Favorite Band, Duo or Group, as well as Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album for ``Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.''

In country music, Brooks & Dunn, voted vocal duo at last week's Country Music Association awards, got Favorite Band, Duo or Group in the country category.

Kix Brooks joked backstage that he and his partner were in the midst of ``a long cocktail party'' after the Nashville awards show, which they hosted for the first time.

Toby Keith, meanwhile, took the translucent, pyramid-shaped trophy for Favorite Male Artist for country.

Backstage, presenter Anna Nicole Smith, dramatically slimmed down but characteristically addled on stage, stole the show in the photo tent where she spent an extended period vamping for a ravenous horde of howling paparazzi.

After 10 minutes in which she flashed more flesh than a tanning salon and even posed with her pet dog, handlers gripped both arms and dragged her away.

Also earning attention was Snoop Dogg, the star with the evening's largest entourage. The Long Beach rapper was trailed by a posse of 10, including pals and bodyguards.

In other awards, Keys won Favorite Female Artist in the soul-r&b derby. Calabasas rockers Linkin Park took Favorite Alternative Music artists.

Awards are decided by votes cast by a cross section of record buyers. The three-hour ABC telecast was once again hosted by comic Jimmy Kimmel, who drew laughs with the opening line, ``We're here to celebrate the performers who sing - or lip-sync.''

Fred Shuster, (818) 713-3676

fred.shuster(at)dailynews.com

THE WINNERS

Winners at the 32nd annual American Music Awards:

Pop-Rock:

--Male Artist: Usher.

--Female Artist: Sheryl Crow.

--Band, Duo or Group: OutKast.

--Album: ``Confessions,'' Usher.

Soul-R&B:

--Male Artist: Usher.

--Female Artist: Alicia Keys.

--Album: ``Confessions,'' Usher.

Country:

--Male Artist: Toby Keith.

--Female Artist: Reba McEntire.

--Band, Duo or Group: Brooks & Dunn.

--Album: ``Shock'n Y'All,'' Toby Keith.

Rap-Hip-Hop:

--Male Artist: Jay-Z.

--Band, Duo or Group: OutKast.

--Album: ``Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,'' OutKast.

Adult Contemporary:

--Artist: Sheryl Crow.

Latin Music:

--Artist: Marc Anthony.

Alternative Music:

--Artist: Linkin Park.

Contemporary Inspirational:

--Artist: MercyMe.

Breakthrough:

--New Artist: Gretchen Wilson.

Award of Merit:

--Bon Jovi

T-Mobile Text-In Award (voted by public):

--Kenny Chesney

- Associated Press

CAPTION(S):

11 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Alicia Keys joins Usher on stage at the Shrine Auditorium during the American Music Awards to sing ``My Boo.''

(2 -- color) Gwen Stefani performs ``What You Waiting For?'' to open the 32nd annual American Music Awards Sunday.

(3 -- color) Performing her breakout hit ``Redneck Woman,'' Gretchen Wilson acknowledges the crowd at the Shrine.

(4 -- 5 -- color) Above, Jon Bon Jovi joins his bandmates on stage to accept the Award of Merit during Sunday night's American Music Awards. At left, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 32nd annual awards.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

(6 -- color) Usher proudly displays his four AMAs Sunday night backstage for the press.

(7 -- color) Sheryl Crow poses for photographers backstage with her two American Music Awards of the evening: for Favorite Pop-Rock Female Artist and for Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer

(8 -- 11 -- color) SNAP SHOTS

Box:

THE WINNERS (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 15, 2004
Words:846
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