LOS ANGELES -- R&B sensation Usher and innovative rap newcomer Kanye West had the leading nominations going into the 32d annual American Music Awards last night.
Usher was up for four honors, including favorite male artist in both the pop/rock and soul/R&B divisions of the awards show, which was broadcast live on ABC. He faced the likes of Josh Groban, Lenny Kravitz, Michael McDonald, Prince, R. Kelly, and ''American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard.
Usher's steamy album ''Confessions," which sold more than 1 million copies in its debut week, was nominated for top album honors in both the pop/rock and soul/R&B divisions.
In the hip-hop/rap class, performer-producer West received nods in three categories: favorite male artist, favorite album for his debut album, ''The College Dropout," and best new artist.
Joining West in the newcomer category were Maroon 5 and Gretchen Wilson, who also was nominated for the top female artist in the country music division, along with Martina McBride and Reba McEntire.
Rap group OutKast, the big winner at February's Grammys, was a contender for best group in both the pop/rock and rap/hip-hop divisions.
Veteran rockers Bon Jovi were chosen to receive a special merit award and were to perform, along with Jessica Simpson, Toby Keith, Maroon 5, Kravitz, Groban, Rod Stewart, and Snoop Dogg. Ringo Starr was to introduce a rarely broadcast clip of the Beatles.
The same male artists nominated last year in the country music category vied for awards again: Keith, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, and Tim McGraw.
Beyonce, Janet Jackson, and Alicia Keys were all up for favorite female performer in the soul/R&B class, and Avril Lavigne, Sheryl Crow, and Simpson topped the list of favorite female artist in the pop/rock division.
The ceremony came as the rap world mourned the sudden death of O.D.B., the founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, who collapsed and died at a New York recording studio on Saturday, two days before his 36th birthday.
Nominees were chosen on the basis of record sales, with winners selected by a survey of about 20,000 listeners.