Michael Jackson, the subject of a tussle between music's two biggest awards shows, accepted an Artist of the Century award but did not perform.
Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash last summer, was named favorite female soul artist. She also won best soul album, and singer Ginuwine commanded a somber ovation in accepting the posthumous award.
"Everybody stand up," he said.
Keys - whose debut disc, Songs in A Minor, was one of last year's top sellers - was named favorite new pop artist and favorite new soul artist. She had been nominated for five awards, more than anyone else.
"This has been a fantastic year," said Keys, whose hit, "Fallin'," dominated the airwaves over the summer.
Destiny's Child, wearing matching brown suede, beat out 'N Sync and the Dave Matthews Band for favorite pop album. The trio was also named favorite soul group.
Country's husband-and-wife team were named favorite male and female artist. McGraw's Set This Circus Down was named favorite country album.
The awards are a popularity contest based on music sales. India.Arie, who received seven Grammy nominations last week, was shut out of the AMAs.
'N Sync's Justin Timberlake noted some audience grumbling when the quintet won favorite pop group over U2 and the Dave Matthews Band.
"Quit booing," he said. "U2's going to get Grammys."
Luther Vandross was named favorite soul artist for the sixth time. "I never went away," he said, "but I'm glad to be back."
Recognizing the sales punch of inspirational music, the AMAs started a category to honor it. The favorite contemporary inspirational artist award, given for the first time in the show's 29-year history, went to Yolanda Adams, who raised the roof by singing "Open Up My Heart."
"It shows music is now ready for gospel," she said backstage. "Gospel has been around a long time, but now we're being recognized as a legitimate art form."
Fittingly, red, white and blue were the colors of choice at a show.
Nelly, winner for rap/hip hop artist, wore the colors in a sweat suit.
The post-show party in the Shrine Auditorium was decorated with an oversized Uncle Sam and Statue of Liberty, a giant American flag and red, white and blue bunting.
Most of the attention was focused on someone who wasn't even among the nominees.
Michael Jackson's scheduled appearance prompted AMA producer Clark to sue the man in charge of the Grammys for $10 million in December.
Clark alleged that C. Michael Greene, president of the Recording Academy, had threatened to deny Jackson an opportunity to perform at next month's Grammys if Jackson showed up at the American Music Awards. Clark said that Greene has used such tactics for years to siphon talent from the AMA show, which always airs before the Grammy telecast. Greene has denied the allegations.
Clark's representative, Paul Shefrin, said AMA had planned to run a taped Jackson performance, but was asked by "Jackson's representatives" not to air it.
Country singer Garth Brooks, who won an Award of Merit, said backstage that musical artists should not have to worry about such industry politics.
"I say, back off, you're nothing without the artists," Brooks said.
Publicity over the legal battle could help boost the awards show, which has suffered declining ratings in recent years.