You won't be at all surprised to learn that Mariah Carey was nominated for Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock, at the American Music Awards in1991. But you may be surprised to learn that she didn't win. The victor that year: Vanilla Ice, whose "Ice Ice Baby" hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 in November 1990, just as voting was getting underway.
Carey went on to be one of the biggest pop stars of the past 25 years. She has amassed 28 top 10 hits on the Hot 100. Vanilla Ice had just two. (The third nominee that year, Wilson Phillips, had four.)
The choice of Wilson, who had a #1 country smash that year with "Redneck Woman," shows the huge popularity of country music. So does the even more surprising outcome in 2009, when country bandGloriana beat Lady Gaga in the category. (The other nominees were Kid Cudi and Keri Hilson.)
It's not easy to predict which new artists will sustain (and even grow) and which will fall behind. Often, artists that have huge first years have nowhere to go but down, while those who build gradually over time have a better chance of long-term success. But the surest route to win a new artist award at the AMAs (or the Grammys) is to have a phenomenal first year.
Even acknowledging the difficulty in picking new artist winners, AMA voters have made some new artist choices that may have you scratching your head. Here are some other cases at the AMAs where a runner-up for Favorite New Artist has outshone the winner.
The Kentucky Headhunters won Favorite New Artist, Country, in 1991. The group beat Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt. The Headhunters had just one top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs—a remake of the country standard "Oh Lonesome Me." Jackson has had 50. Tritt has had 20.
C&C Music Factory won Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock, in 1992, beating Boyz II Men and Color Me Badd. Boyz II Men has amassed 10 top 10 hits on the Hot 100, compared to three for each of the other groups.
Firehouse beat Nirvana and Alice in Chains for Favorite New Artist, Heavy Metal/Hard Rock, in 1992. (The AMAs didn't have an Alternative category until 1995.) Firehouse's eponymous debut album was a hit in 1991, but the group didn't make nearly as big a long-term impact as the other two bands. Nirvana has sold 26.4 million albums. Alice in Chains has sold 15.2 million.
Billy Ray Cyrus won Favorite New Artist, Country, in 1993, beating Brooks & Dunn and Wynonna. Cyrus has had seven top 10 hits on Hot Country Songs. Brooks & Dunn had 41. Wynonna has had 11 on her own. (She also had 20 before that as one-half of The Judds.)
Donell Jones took Favorite New Artist, Soul/R&B, in 2001, beating out contemporary gospel stars Mary Mary and pop superstar P!nk (whose first hit, "There You Go," reached the top 15 on the R&B chart in 2000). Jones had two top five R&B hits in 1999-2000, but the other acts have had greater longevity. Mary Mary had a top five R&B hit as recently as 2009. And while P!nk hasn't returned to the top 15 on the R&B chart, her string of pop hits have easily justified the exclamation point that is embedded in her name.
Trick Pony took Favorite New Artist, Country, in 2002, beating out Blake Shelton, who, like Urban, has gone on to major crossover success and TV stardom (on The Voice). He recently won Male Vocalist Of The Year for the fourth year in a row at the Country Music Awards. Trick Pony had one top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs ("On A Night Like This"). Shelton has had 18. (The third nominee, Jamie O'Neal, had three.)
Hot Chelle Rae took the overall Favorite New Artist of the Year award in 2011, beating out The Band Perry, Miguel and Wiz Khalifa. Hot Chelle Rae won on the strength of their effervescent top 10 hit "Tonight Tonight," but the other acts all have higher profiles today.
Erykah Badu beat Puff Daddy and Dru Hill as Favorite New Artist, Soul/R&B, in 1992. In addition to being a big record seller, Puff Daddy has become a mogul and an entrepreneur.
What does all this mean for this year's New Artist Of The Year nominees—Macklemore & Ryan Lewis,Florida Georgia Line, Ariana Grande, Imagine Dragons and Phillip Phillips? Which artist will win the award and which will have the longest career? We'll find out the answer to the first question on Nov. 24 when this year's AMAs are telecast on ABC. We'll have to wait much longer to find out the answer to the second.