Eminem, Avril Lavigne, Nelly, Norah Jones Nab Most Grammy Noms

Bruce Springsteen, Ashanti, Raphael Saadiq, Sheryl Crow also lead pack with five nominations each.

With eight artists grabbing five nominations each, this year’s Grammy Awards looks to be one of the most competitive in the ceremony’s 45 years. (Click here for the list of nominees and for photos of this year’s Grammy nominees and performers .)

Three relative newcomers, Ashanti, Norah Jones and Avril Lavigne, join Sheryl Crow, Eminem, Nelly, Raphael Saadiq and Bruce Springsteen as the artists with the greatest chances of leaving New York’s Madison Square Garden on February 23 with the most golden gramophones in their arms.

All eyes will be on Norah Jones, who stands to reign supreme on Grammy night with four of her five nominations arriving in the big four categories: Best New Artist; Album of the Year, for Come Away With Me; and Song of the Year (given to the songwriter Jesse Harris) and Record of the Year for “Don’t Know Why.” Jones and her full-length debut album also received nods in the categories Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, while the LP’s producer, Arif Mardin, scored one in the Producer of the Year, Non-Classical category to give the Norah Jones camp a whopping eight nominations combined.

Eminem, Nelly, Springsteen and Lavigne received two nods apiece for the big awards. Em’s “Without Me” is up for Record of the Year, along with Nelly’s “Dilemma” (which features Kelly Rowland), Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” and Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.” The Eminem Show will vie for Album of the Year honors against Come Away With Me, the Dixie Chicks’ Home, Nelly’s Nellyville and Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising.

Springsteen was also nominated in the Song of the Year category for “The Rising.” The Boss’ tune, which resonated with many after the events of September 11, 2001, will face off against another song inspired by the tragedy, Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”

The Best New Artist category finds John Mayer the sole male amidst a quartet of ladies, Ashanti, Michelle Branch, Jones and Lavigne, whose single “Complicated” is also up for Song of the Year. (Last year, Alicia Keys walked off with the prestigious honor. Who do you think should win Grammy’s equivalent to Rookie of the Year?
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“Chauvinists unite!” Mayer joked at Madison Square Garden, in a half-hearted attempt to strum up support for his cause. “I’m just going to go to sports bars and lobby.

“It’s cool,” he continued sincerely. “I look at the list and say, ‘It makes sense to me.’ ”

While Ashanti is likely to have her fingers crossed for the big Best New Artist win, she’ll be doubly excited when the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category is awarded. Besides receiving a nod for assisting Fat Joe with “What’s Luv?” the songbird with the second-best-selling debut album of 2002 has increased her chances of winning with “Always on Time,” her collaboration with Ja Rule. Ashanti likes both songs, but she looks to the phrase “blood is thicker than water” when deciding whom to root for.

“I don’t necessarily have a preference, but it I had to choose, it would have to be my brother Ja,” she said. “That’s my family, Murder, Inc. Records.”

Nominations for the 45th annual Grammy Awards were announced Tuesday (January 7) at a press conference held in Madison Square Garden. Among the artists on hand to read the roster of those hopeful for Grammy gold were Ashanti, country singer Kenny Chesney, ’80s faceplate Cyndi Lauper, Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake, Nelly and producer Jimmy Jam, who filled in for a previously scheduled but absent Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

The artists each took the podium in turn to announce the contestants for two of the categories, which made for some interesting pronunciations. Ashanti (pronounced a-shan-tee) became the faux-fabulous sounding “A-shan-tay” whenever most on hand mentioned her name; and Lavigne, in announcing the nominees for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance botched David Bowie’s name, pronouncing it ‘Bow-wee” (as in the dog sound “bow-wow”). The flub is not likely to go unnoticed among Lavigne’s critics, and it just might go down in pop-star infamy, the way Britney Spears’ remark that suggested Pat Benatar sang “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” a song Joan Jett made famous, did in a fall 2001 interview.

Four nominations fell on the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, R&B singer Remy Shand and Chad Kroeger, who scored one with his band Nickelback, and three others for his song “Hero,” penned for the soundtrack to “Spider-Man.”

Besides two in the big four, Vanessa Carlton’s other nomination came in the Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). While most categories in the Composing/Arranging field are often overlooked in favor of more artist-specific ones, the 21-year-old pianist doesn’t consider her third nod to be any less important. In fact, considering that she’s the only nominee who’s also an artist in that category, she said she’s perhaps most proud of that honor because it shows her as the well-rounded artist she is.

“I am most excited for that nomination because it is recognizing the process, something other than the vocal and the song itself,” she explained. “It kind of acknowledges how the puzzle fits together. I think [Be Not Nobody] is a beautiful record and I’m really proud to know that people recognized that. I was totally surprised, though. I really was.”

India.Arie, Erykah Badu, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Dr. Dre, Randy Newman, Arif Mardin and No Doubt also nabbed three nominations each.

Touting over 100 categories, the Grammys is the most comprehensive music awards show, but even with classifications such as Best Polka Album (for which Jimmy Sturr’s Top of the World looks to be the odds-on favorite) and Best Remixed Record, Non-Classical, there just aren’t enough designations for some folks.

“Actually, one they didn’t mention was best haircut-changing-style every year,’ a near-bald Timberlake kidded. “I’m hoping I get the Victrola for that.”

Maybe next year, Justin. In the meantime, the ‘NSYNC star must be content with just one nomination, for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, for the Clipse-featured “Like I Love You,” the first single from his solo debut, Justified.

Super production duo the Neptunes were puzzlingly absent from the Producer of the Year category, which instead found Dr. Dre, Nellee Hooper, Arif Mardin, Rick Rubin, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis attempting to stake their claim to the title. After producing a number of Grammy-nominated tracks, including Timberlake’s “Like I Love You,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and Mystikal’s “Bouncin’ Back (Bumpin’ Me Against the Wall),” it’s a mystery why Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams didn’t receive any love from the Recording Academy.

“For the second year in a row, can you imagine that?” Williams said of his Grammy dis. “All the work we’ve done? For whatever reason, nobody thought to put us on the ballot.”

The 45th annual ceremony marks the Grammys’ return to New York, after Los Angeles hosted the previous four events. The show will be broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m. (ET/PT). Before the show, catch MTV’s pre-show telecast “Backstage at the Grammys,” airing at 7 p.m. ET.

MTV’s parent company, Viacom, also owns CBS.

For more Grammy news, check out the MTV News Grammy Archive .