Amy Winehouse grabs 5 Grammys, but loses album of the year to Herbie Hancock in a shocker

Amy Winehouse is seen via satellite from London hugging her mother Janis as she wins record of the year at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008, in Los Angeles. Kevork Djansezian, The Associated Press


Amy Winehouse is seen via satellite from London hugging her mother Janis as she wins record of the year at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008, in Los Angeles. Kevork Djansezian, The Associated Press

By Ryan Pearson

LOS ANGELES – Amy Winehouse, Herbie Hancock and Kanye West didn’t provide quite enough drama to enthrall television viewers. Preliminary estimates Monday indicate the Grammy Awards telecast was watched by 17.5 million people.

Nielsen Media Research said that would make it the third least-watched Grammy Awards show ever if later estimates confirm that number.

It’s down from the 20 million viewers who watched last year. The 2006 awards, with 17 million viewers, is the Grammy low point. The show had 17.3 million viewers in 1995.

On a night filled with nods to the show’s 50-year history, the most trophies went to Winehouse, a 24-year-old singer known for her old-soul voice. The most sought-after prize, for album of the year, went to veteran jazzman Hancock for his Joni Mitchell tribute disc.

Both Winehouse and Hancock were dumbstruck by the honors, fumbling for words and thank-you lists, respectively.

“I can’t believe I’ve won five awards,” Winehouse said. She coyly sang “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” via satellite link from London, then dedicated her record of the year trophy to her hometown, parents and jailed husband, “my Blake, my Blake incarcerated.”

Hancock, whose “River: The Joni Letters” won album of the year, said after the show Sunday night at the Staples Center that it was “immeasurable how surprised I am.”

Presenter Quincy Jones seemed even more excited for the 11-time Grammy winner, throwing his hands wide after reading Hancock’s name. “Aaaahhh! Unbelievable. That’s unbelievable, man,” Jones exclaimed.

Industry observers had expected either Winehouse’s “Back in Black” or West’s “Graduation” to take the prize. There was speculation the two may have split the vote of younger, more pop-centric National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences voters, leaving the door open for Hancock.

That result left the typically outspoken West in no mood to share his thoughts. West won four trophies, but after losing out once again in the album of the year category he’d made no secret of coveting, he skipped post-show interview rooms to instead pose for photos with his fiance and members of his entourage.

“I’m good,” he said quietly, in response to questions about how he felt. It was a subdued echo of the exuberant call on his “Good Life,” which won for rap song.

Winehouse, who won five of the six awards for which she was nominated, perhaps best embodied the evening’s spirit of joining the old with the new. Her sound, cultivated on “Back to Black” by producer of the year winner Mark Ronson, blends ’50s flavors with modern subject matter and hip-hop influences.

Along those lines, show producers began the evening with Alicia Keys singing “Learnin’ The Blues” alongside archival footage of Frank Sinatra, a la Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” duet with her deceased father in 1992.

“Yeah, Frank,” Keys interjected during a Sinatra verse. “Tell ’em.”

Beyonce was paired with Tina Turner for a showy – and leggy – rendition of “Proud Mary.” Kid Rock joined up with Keely Smith, a winner in the very first Grammys in 1958, for “That Old Black Magic.” Hancock and Chinese wunderkind Lang Lang did the dueling pianos thing for a compelling take on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The Beatles were honored by performers from two new interpretations of their music, the Cirque du Soleil show “Love” and Julie Taymor’s film “Across the Universe.”

Memories dominated West’s performance of “Hey Mama,” a once-exuberant song from his 2005 album “Late Registration” that he has transformed into a somber tribute since his mother Donda’s sudden death last year.

“Last night I saw you in my dreams. Now I can’t wait to go to sleep,” he sang in the night’s most emotional performance.

Accepting the award for rap album, West spoke to his mother: “I appreciate everything and I know you are really proud of me right now and I know you wouldn’t want me to stop and you’d want me to be the No. 1 artist in the world.”

Veteran rocker Bruce Springsteen took home three Grammys, including best rock song for “Radio Nowhere.” Chaka Khan picked up two trophies, including one for best R&B; album for “Funk This.”

Politics were a subtle backdrop to the evening. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won an award for spoken word album, for the audio version of his book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Presenter George Lopez took note of the historic nature of the Hillary Clinton and Obama candidacies, and urged the crowd to vote after a strange free-wheeling freestyle billed as a “mash-up.”

And finally, Hancock borrowed Obama’s favorite campaign phrase, “Yes we can,” when summing up the significance of a jazz artist winning album of the year. (The last was 1964’s “Getz/Gilberto,” a collaboration between Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto.)

“I’d like to thank the academy for courageously breaking the mold this time,” he said. “This is a new day, that proves that the impossible can be made possible. Yes we can, to coin a phrase.”