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Basking, glowing -- and squirming

February 12, 2007|Steve Hochman and Rich Kane | Special to The Times

TWO topics were inevitable when Carrie Underwood, named the year's best new artist, came backstage to meet the press at Staples Center on Sunday night. First, of course, was whether her success, both commercially and at the Grammy Awards, put a lie to the notion that being an "American Idol" winner could hurt more than help in some ways. She answered nicely, as if it was a new question for her.

"Obviously, in my case, that hasn't been true," she said of "Idol" backlash. "I think tonight kind of proved that 'American Idol' can transcend the talent show stereotype it has. It's just great talent on the show that couldn't get discovered doing what they were doing. It certainly worked for me."

The other subject proved more uncomfortable, when one reporter asked what she felt about the Dixie Chicks not just winning big Sunday night but "giving the finger" to the country-music world, much of which had rejected them after their 2003 criticism of President Bush.

Underwood scrunched her face up a little and said, meekly, "Next question, please. I don't like talking about anyone giving the finger."

The question was rephrased a bit to be more about the message of the Chicks, who have stopped identifying themselves as a country act but won the country album award anyway.

"All I can really say is I'm happy for them, and I'll leave it at that," she said.

Irma Thomas

Irma Thomas, whose "After the Rain" was named best contemporary blues album of the year, told reporters that she shared the award with the people of her hometown, New Orleans, whose trials in part inspired and informed the heartfelt work.

"They were pulling for me," she said. "When I win, they all win."

She wasn't even put out that, after nearly five decades of acclaimed blues and R&B performances, it took disaster to draw the attention of the recording academy her way.

"I don't care what it took!" she said. "I got one! I am just pleased and tickled, and you don't understand how it is when you work.... This is my 49th year and I've been at it a long time -- and though I didn't have to have it, after all that work, [to say] I am a Grammy winner, it's a wonderful thing."

John Mayer

After his performance and win for best pop vocal album, John Mayer changed back into the tux he'd worn for the red carpet arrival. But he did away with a lot of formalities in his chat, lightheartedly answering questions, including addressing his reputation as being an ideal Grammy-appeal artist for his traditional music leanings, guitar dexterity and, of course, good looks and charm.

"That would entail externalizing in a way I don't like to do any more," he said, refusing to analyze that status. "I've managed to make better work because I've managed to shut down the radar as to why. That stuff is none of my business. I live a quieter life in my head. I don't try to get into other peoples' heads any more."

Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige would make a great baseball player, since going three for eight seemed terrific to her. "This has been an incredible night for me," she said backstage after five of the eight categories in which she was nominated went to other acts. "Not only a music business breakthrough but a personal breakthrough."

(Not coincidentally, the album behind her awards is titled, yes, "The Breakthrough.")

"I'm so happy my peers recognized me with the nominations," she said.

Any doubts that she was in a thankful mood were banished when she won the first award given out on the telecast. Rushing as the music played, she acknowledged 55 people by name.

"I did two days of trying to remember everyone," she said.

For more backstage reaction, go to

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