Ever wonder what goes through the minds of Grammy nominees as they're waiting for the words, ". . . and the winner is"?
"I know this is probably something that I shouldn't say, but I kind of prepare myself to lose," admits three-time Grammy winner Luther Vandross. "In other words, I start the calming process when I know that the next thing that comes up has a category that I'm in. I start breathing a little deeply, so that I can be prepared in case it doesn't happen.
"Because I went 11 years before I won one. So the year that Michael Bolton said my name -- he was presenting that category that year -- I heard him, but I didn't hear him. His voice was like an echo or something, and I was almost beginning to clap for whoever the winner was.
"When I looked back at the tape, I said, 'Look how long I sat in the seat,' as if it took me a while to connect the dots."
Tonight, Vandross will be joining some of the biggest names in the music business -- including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men and Elton John -- at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for the presentation of the 37th annual Grammy awards. (The ceremony will be carried live, beginning at 8 p.m., on CBS, Channel 13, locally). Although it seems safe to predict that not every winner will seem as stunned as Vandross did that first time, the truth is that many musicians are amazed simply at being nominated.
"I haven't been able to relate it to anything yet," says Sheryl Crow of her five nominations, which include nods for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. "I guess I'm honored, but I can't really categorize anything yet. We've always based everything on working hard, and to have this come up -- it's a really nice thing, but I haven't really thought about winning.
"In fact, the only thing I can think about right now is getting through the actual awards ceremony," she says, laughing. "That sort of thing makes me so nervous. I like being onstage, I like that part of it. But when it's based on something like that, and people are going to be looking at you and what you're wearing and all -- that stuff just makes me nervous."
Still, Crow -- who in addition to being a nominee is one of the performers tonight -- is looking forward to the show. "One of the main reasons I'm really happy about it is that my family -- 10 of 'em -- are coming out, including my 82-year-old grandmother who has never been on an airplane," she says. "It's just the biggest thrill that's ever happened to them."
Simply being nominated was thrill enough for alterna-rocker Liz Phair. After a night of dithering over whether to attend the local Chicago Grammy press conference, she and producer Brad Wood arrived to find that Phair had been nominated for the Best Female Rock Vocal Grammy.
"I was completely blown away," she says. "We showed up, and they announced it. So I was very happy that I had washed my hair and worn a decent jacket," she says, laughing. "Because I almost didn't."
Since then, Phair -- who will not only be attending the awards ceremony, but will help present the Best New Artist award -- has been almost manic with excitement. "The glitter stuff is the exciting, irrational stuff," she admits. "Like, 'Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, can I meet Green Day?' I was freaking out of what I'm going to wear. I'm going running now, I'm trying to do push-ups and stuff. So that's the irrational part."
Phair is up for a Grammy in the female rock vocal performance category with Crow, Raitt, Sam Phillips and Melissa Etheridge. "I have a feeling it'll go to Melissa Etheridge, but it could be Sheryl Crow," she says. But what if the presenters said, ". . . and the winner is: Liz Phair"?
"I think I would die," she says. "That'd be insane. That'd be too insane. I'm sort of feeling I've got a handle on the business now, and that would mess up my theory altogether."
But who knows? The Grammy voting is handled by qualified members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), a group of musicians, engineers and producers who pretty much vote their own taste.
"I don't really think there's a 'Grammy's Favorite'-type scenario going down," says Vandross, a long-time NARAS member. His (( own voting, he says, boils down to "what I like. You know how some people can write the review before they actually see the act? I'm not like that. I love certain artists, but if there's an artist who I never had heard of but whose record I really loved that particular year, I would vote that way. It's all whim."
So who does he like this year? "Well, along with everyone else, I love Boyz II Men," he says. "That, to me, recalls the best in R&B values and sounds, you know? I love the way it's recorded.
"I love Elton, so I loved the 'Lion King' project. And Anita Baker. She's got one of the diva voices of all time. I love her, and hope she wins a lot."
Wait a minute, though -- isn't Baker competing against Vandross for Best R&B Album? Does that mean Luther voted against himself?
"My nose would start growing if I said I did," he says, laughing heartily. "I love Anita, but listen -- I'm putting the 'x' in my box!"