Billboard Awards: Blige, Underwood Win Big

Mary J. Blige won big at this year’s Billboard Music Awards as her chart-topping comeback album “The Breakthrough” landed the R&B diva a leading nine honors.

Among the awards the 35-year-old singer claimed Monday night were R&B/Hip-Hop artist of the year, female R&B artist of the year and R&B/Hip-Hop album of the year.

“The Breakthrough” shot to No. 1 after it debuted on the Billboard charts in December 2005 and has sold 2.6 million copies since.

Blige, in white go-go boots and a sparkly mini-dress, rocked the full house by belting out a medley of her “Enough Crying” and “Take me as I am” during the two-hour show aired live from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Blige said she’s already reached the pinnacle of her career by enduring personal struggles that once led her to sing hopefully about having “no more drama” in her life.

“I’ve realized if I don’t (love) myself, nobody will. Nobody is going to love me more than I do,” Blige told reporters after the show.

Chris Brown, a 17-year-old lothario who calls his music “Hip-Hop with a swagger,” won new artist of the year, male of artist of the year and artist of the year awards.

“I’m 17. That’s crazy, it’s mind-boggling,” said Brown. “My mom, she still keeps me humble. She tells me to take out the trash, ya know, clean my room.”

Newcomers Rihanna and idol-turned-country star Carrie Underwood also walked away with high honors.

The 18-year-old from Barbados edged out Blige and Beyonce for the top songstress honor.

“I really can’t feel my legs, this is phenomenal,” said Rihanna as she accepted the award for best female artist of the year award. “That was a really tough category.”

Janet Jackson opened the show with a nod to the old and the new. Sporting a short bob haircut and a belly-baring white turtleneck sweater that offered no chance of wardrobe malfunction, Jackson performed her 1980s classic, “The Pleasure Principle,” mixed into “So Excited,” a single from her 2006 comeback album, “20 Y.O.”

The telecast did not, however, feature Tinseltown’s duo du jour heiress Paris Hilton and mom-gone-wild Britney Spears. After their recent binge of late-night partying, it was reported that the new best friends would be co-hosting the show. But neither appeared and the show went on without a host, a lineup of presenters filling in to move things along.

Country crossover Carrie Underwood’s “Some Hearts” won both country album and album of the year. The “American Idol” winner was named female country artist of the year.

Atlanta rapper T.I. took home rap artist of the year and rap album of the year for his fourth solo album, “King,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart in March.

Canadian rockers Nickelback’s “All the Right Reasons,” won rock album of the year and artist-duo/group of the year. The band closed the show jamming to “Looking for some Touch,” with Kid Rock and ZZ Top.

Gwen Stefani and Black Eyed Peas lead singer Fergie, both with solo efforts this year, also performed.

Las Vegas natives The Killers backed out of a performance because bandmember Brandon Flowers was ill, the group said.

Crooner Tony Bennett was honored with the Billboard Century Award, a lifetime achievement award.

Bennett timed his release of “Duets: An American Classic” featuring Bono, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand and other musical big-timers to his 80th birthday. The September release has become the best-selling album of his 50-plus-year recording career.

The Billboard Awards are given to the year’s chart-topping artists. Winners are determined by the magazine’s year-end chart listings, which are based on record sales and airplay.

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