You had to feel sorry for country singer Randy Travis. He won twice as many awards (four) as anyone else at Monday night's 15th annual American Music Awards ceremony at Shrine Auditorium, but he didn't seem to be having any fun.
Though Travis dominates country music more than anyone since Willie Nelson in the '70s, he doesn't relish the spotlight--except when he's singing. The ex-dishwasher is the perfect stereotype of the shy country boy who suddenly made good.
While the Shrine was filled with performers--like David Lee Roth and Cher--who love nothing better than to talk about their careers, they had to stay in their seats for the most part during the nationally televised, 3-hour event.
Meanwhile, Travis, whose "Always and Forever" album has been in the country Top 5 for almost nine months, kept marching to the podium to accept another trophy and then go backstage to gamely answer reporters' questions in his "aw-shucks" style.
Typical of his remarks backstage: "It's just country music (and) I try to sing . . . with as much emotion as I can."
Some media representatives were actually rooting against Travis--whose honors included most popular male country singer, country album, country single and country video--so they wouldn't have to contend with any more of those awkward question-and-answer periods.
Whitney Houston, who won four awards at last year's ceremony, isn't particularly glib, either. But the former model, who won awards Monday for pop female singer and single ("I Wanna Dance With Somebody"), is certainly improving. She is becoming so used to collecting awards that she now gives acceptance cliches with ease.
Unlike the annual Grammy Awards, the American Music Awards aren't meant to reflect artistic excellence. The event is a made-for-television popularity contest, based on a national survey of 20,000 music fans.
Paul Simon was the only other multiple winner of the evening. Simon was cited as favorite pop male singer and for favorite album ("Graceland"). Luther Vandross, Reba McEntire, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, the country band Alabama and hard rockers Bon Jovi were also winners--though neither of the Jacksons nor Vandross nor Simon were on hand.
Though the awards don't carry the prestige of the Grammys, the show is still important in the industry because of the television exposure artists receive. An appearance can be as helpful to boosting sales as a guest shot on the Grammys.
Once simply a dull parade of winners, the program has evolved into one of the most colorful and entertaining of the awards shows.
There wasn't as much excitement as usual this year, because few of pop music's most colorful superstars--such as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen or Prince--were on hand.
The series of press conferences backstage were also somewhat colorless this time around. The few stars who consented to meet the press had little of interest to say.
The Biggest Bore award on my score card went to Anita Baker, who was saluted for both favorite female soul singer and soul album. The more inane the question, the more long-winded her reply.
In past years, female stars livened things up with attention-getting outfits. But conservatism seemed to be in vogue this year.
The most outrageous bit of attire was the silver hard hat worn by Mike Love when the Beach Boys came through after winning the career award of merit.
In fact, the press was all geared for some closing excitement. After all, Love had spiced things up during last week's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner in New York by criticizing Paul McCartney and Diana Ross for not showing up.
The hard hat seemed to be an in-joke in response to the criticism Love received for those remarks. If so, he didn't carry the joke any further. He touched on the Hall of Fame remarks in passing, but showed no sign of wanting to prolong the controversy.