01/07/2002 - Updated 08:40 AM ET

India Arie surprises Grammy experts

By Ken Barnes, USA TODAY

Even the experts can be blindsided by the Grammy nominations. When we consulted seasoned Grammy handicappers Thomas O'Neil and Paul Grein to forecast this year's winners, they both expressed surprise — bordering on shock — over one nominee.

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"We knew they were going to be crowning a new R&B diva today," O'Neil says, "but we didn't know that it was going to be India Arie! We thought it would be Alicia Keys. It's not that Alicia was snubbed — she got six nominations in top categories — but she was upstaged."

Arie received seven nominations, including one for top album, a category in which Keys was absent. "I would have thought that was pretty much a lock," Grein says. But whether Arie's nominations will translate into awards hardware is another question. Here's a look at projected winners for some of the key categories, based on opinions from O'Neil, Grein and USA TODAY music writers. Artists are ranked from most likely to least likely to win.

New artist

• Alicia Keys: Despite Arie's sudden ascendance, Keys should easily triumph. "I think for six months, it's been a foregone conclusion that Alicia would win," Grein says.

• Linkin Park: Hard rock is not a Grammy voter preference, but the group had the year's best-selling album. And if Keys and Arie split the R&B diva vote, Linkin could log an upset.

David Gray: Veteran singer/songwriter is the type voters respond to (see Shelby Lynne, last year's new-artist winner).

India Arie: "If voters think there's this hot new artist, that means India could win," O'Neil says.

Nelly Furtado: A worthy nominee, but in this company, she might as well turn off the light.

Pop duo or group vocal

U2, Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of: Grein is a little surprised that U2 did so well, with eight total nominations, but the band of the moment appears to be a lock to win this and several more.

• Five for Fighting, Superman: Popular hit but an anonymous artist. Distant shot at an upset.

• R.E.M., Imitation of Life: As opposed to well-loved artist but a non-hit. Won't unseat U2.

• 'N Sync, Gone: Strong vocal performance, but boy bands' Grammy moment is over.

Backstreet Boys, Shape of My Heart: Chances pale even in comparison with 'N Sync.

R&B female vocal

Alicia Keys, Fallin': Keys' overall momentum should win this fiercely competitive category.

• Aaliyah, Rock the Boat: The late singer's best shot for a win.

• Mary J. Blige, Family Affair: Inescapable hit just as votes are cast; could take over.

• India Arie, Video: Surprise buzz may work for her here.

• Jill Scott, A Long Walk: Probably more appreciated by aficionados than Arie, but less well known to pop voters.

Blu Cantrell: Hit 'Em Up Style: Smash hit could win in a less formidable field.

Rap album

Outkast, Stankonia: Should win in its "home" category.

Jay-Z, The Blueprint: "A classic," says USA TODAY's Steve Jones, but less widespread acclaim than Outkast has earned.

• Eve, Scorpion: Unlikely to knock off the top two contenders.

• Ja Rule, Pain Is Love: Not ready to rule just yet.

• Ludacris: Back for the First Time: Maybe when he comes back for the second or third time.

Country album

Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute: USA TODAY country reporter Brian Mansfield feels this is a sure shot, what with all the rock artists paying homage to a country great.

• Tim McGraw, Set This Circus Down: A huge country hit, but not likely to derail the Hank Williams juggernaut.

• Trisha Yearwood, Inside Out: A longtime Grammy favorite, but not in this race.

• Diamond Rio, One More Day: A strong title track (both a Dale Earnhardt and Sept. 11 anthem) won't be enough to deliver an album trophy.

• Willie Nelson, Rainbow Connection: Children's album that apparently sneaked in on Willie's rep.

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