Ray Charles, John Mayer and Kanye West big winners at the 2005 Grammy awards

Andrew Hampp

Maroon 5 took home the award for Best New Artist at Sunday’s Grammys despite heavy competition from the likes of Kanye West and Joss Stone.

Credit: Andrew Hampp

Leave it to the Black Eyed Peas to kick off the 47th Annual Grammy Awards on an off-key note. Literally.

Fergie, the ubiquitous, scantily clad female Black Eyed Pea, struggled to find the right note as she plunged into “Let’s Get It Started” for the umpteenth time during Sunday night’s show. Honestly, how many more award shows, sporting events and TV commercials are going to use “Started” before it becomes the most over-used song of the new millennium?

Fergie’s struggle to find the right pitch pretty much summed up Sunday night’s Grammys: You might have had to suffer through some painfully bad — or sometimes plain boring — moments, but when it was good it was good.

Take eight-time nominee Alicia Keys, whose stirring, strings-and-harp-laden rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You” was an early highlight. Keys gave a passionate, note-perfect vocal performance that greatly outshone her strained duet moments later with Jamie Foxx, an over-the-top tribute to the late Ray Charles on “Georgia On My Mind.”

Charles was indeed on everyone’s mind at Sunday night’s ceremony, posthumously taking home two of the night’s biggest awards. His song with Norah Jones, “Here We Go Again,” took home Record of the Year, while his duets album, Genius Loves Company, inexplicably took home Album of the Year despite far more worthy candidates such as Green Day and Kanye West.

Having Charles take home the major awards yet nominating such relatively hip artists like West, Green Day and Usher in the major categories is still a major achievement for the Grammys. After seriously faltering in recent years by giving Album of the Year to artists like Steely Dan, the most irrelevant awards show this side of the Daytime Emmys finally put down the Reader’s Digest and picked up a Rolling Stone.

What else can explain pairing aging punk rockers like Velvet Revolver’s Scott Weiland and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong with Grammy regulars like Norah Jones, Stevie Wonder and Brian Wilson on a rather painful group performance of “Across The Universe?” Seriously, when Norah can’t rescue a Beatles classic, you know you’re in trouble.

And what was up with the opening medley of every single overplayed song of the year (with the exception of Gwen Stefani and Eve’s fantastic, all-too-brief “Rich Girl”) and then trying to make a live mash-up of all of them a la Linkin Park and Jay-Z? Haven’t we heard Maroon 5’s “This Love” and Los Lonely Boys’ “Heaven” enough to know they’d sound even more annoying when played together?

Speaking of Maroon 5, the soul-inflected rockers took home the Best New Artist award, providing plenty of speech fodder for more deserving recipient Kanye West.

“Y’all might as well get the music ready,” West said as he accepted the award for Best Rap Album from Kevin Bacon and Ludacris. “This is gonna take awhile.”

While West was not escorted off stage by the sounds of swelling strings, Ray Charles’ former manager inexplicably was. The moment someone finally has something meaningful to say and they try to shut them up with walk-off music?!

This reviewer, for one, would have loved to see U2’s acceptance speech for Best Rock Song by a Group or Duo cut 30 seconds shorter. Did we really need to hear anything more from a cowboy hat-clad Bono after he spun around in circles, asking his bandmates if they had anything else to contribute?

John Mayer was at least refreshingly honest in his acceptance speech for Song of the Year winner, “Daughters,” telling the crowd how he didn’t even want to release the song as a single. If only Usher could’ve been that forthcoming about all his lame singles after “Yeah!”

The best speech of the night, however, goes to Loretta Lynn, who accepted her award for Best Country Album with creepy White Stripe Jack White, the Johnny Depp of the

music world.

“This is what this business is all about, innit?” Lynn giggled, before spotting a certain “Live Like You Were Dying” performer. “I love Tim McGraw! Faith (Hill), I can’t help it!”

Lynn’s award proved there was some justice left in the Grammy world, as did Melissa Etheridge’s electrifying tribute to Janis Joplin on “Piece Of My Heart.” Newly shorn of her trademark blonde locks due to a recent bout with breast cancer, Etheridge was bald, brazen and badass as she belted out Joplin’s signature tune. But where was Courtney Love or Pink to take the wimpy Joss Stone’s place on “Cry Baby?”

All in all, this year’s Grammys were surprisingly big on highlights and made some major progress in increasing their relevance to their younger, download-happy audience.

While it may be years before we see a band like Green Day actually beat out a deceased legend such as Charles in the Album of the Year category, the mere fact that the band responsible for Dookie could compete with the serious bluesman behind greats such as “Hit The Road Jack” and “What’d I Say?” was a definite sign of the times.

Contact pop arts editor Andrew Hampp [email protected].