Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

She was a continent away, but that didn't stop troubled British soul-singer Amy Winehouse from being the main attraction at last night's Grammy Awards as she took home five awards, including best new artist.

But the erratic singer -- who once took pride of her drug and alcohol abuse -- struggled to live up to the preshow hype. The visibly jumpy 24-year-old labored through shaky but affecting performances of "You Know I'm No Good" and her signature smash "Rehab."

In a towering rose-accented beehive and a black ruffled minidress, she hit a few ragged notes, but she remained engaged with her vibrant band. Kept from the Los Angeles stage because of visa issues, she looked completely stunned as it was announced that she won record of the year for "Rehab."

But while Winehouse waited offscreen to perform via satellite, the night's other big winner with four awards, Chicago rapper Kanye West, made the best of actually being there.

West delivered a literally electric performance of his Grammy-winning hit "Stronger." The staging -- lights low, West in a glowing vest and shades -- looked like a scene from a video game.

But the shades were gone and the lights were up during his tentatively sung but heartfelt performance of "Hey Mama," a tribute to his mother and former manager Donda West, who died last year of complications from cosmetic surgery.

With "Mama" shaved into the back of his head, the notoriously mercurial rapper/producer gave a characteristically pompous acceptance speech, during which the wrap-it-up music threatened to cut him off.

"It would be in good taste to stop the music," West said -- and the music stopped.

Undeterred, he closed by dedicating the award to his mother.

In one of the night's few surprises, jazz great Herbie Hancock picked up the album of the year trophy for his excellent River: The Joni Letters, a tribute to pop maverick Joni Mitchell. The album featuring renowned artists such as Wayne Shorter and Norah Jones beat out the multi-platinum albums of Winehouse and West.

Ever mindful of the past as it tries to stay relevant in today's fragmented pop world, last night's Grammy Awards show kicked off with a smooth nostalgic touch.

Seated at a piano looking elegant in a '50s-style clover-green gown, pop superstar Alicia Keys belted out "Learnin' the Blues" as a video duet with a young Frank Sinatra. In recognition of the Grammy's 50th anniversary, it was a self-consciously classy but fluid connection of the old with the new.

Though there were a few noticeably forced collaborations, the Grammys last night did a better job with the old-school/new-school duets. Continuing the mini-tradition of reuniting acts from yesteryear, the Grammys featured the Time, the Prince-produced funk band from the 1980s, whose biggest hit from the decade was "Jungle Love." The band, which hadn't played together in more than 15 years, performed a snippet of that cut, mashing it with Rihanna's "Umbrella."

With blinking lights and twirling umbrellas galore, the production was overwrought and completely forgettable.

Although her staging of her performance was cheesy, Carrie Underwood, the former American Idol winner and one of country-pop's brightest stars, put a lot of energy behind "Before He Cheats," one of last year's best country hits.

The backing musical accompaniment of industrial-style percussionists, banging everything from tires to huge scraps of metal, was overdone -- much like Underwood's Nancy Sinatra-inspired hair. But none of it got in the way of her assured vocals.

In one of the better collaborations of the night, current pop diva Beyonce shared the stage with ageless legend Tina Turner.

Decked out in a painted-on silver pantsuit, the 68-year-old rock-soul star sang her 1984 Grammy-winning comeback signature "What's Love Got to Do With It" and "Better Be Good To Me" before inviting Beyonce back to the stage to do "Proud Mary."

Although Turner's moves aren't as torrid as they once were, she's still a strong vocal force. She held her own next to the much younger and agile Beyonce, who thankfully toned down her usual eardrum-busting wails.

And speaking of wailing, much was packed into a surprisingly unspectacular gospel segment featuring soul queen Aretha Franklin, whose legendary pipes sounded woefully underpowered next to the robust-voiced BeBe Winans and the explosive harmonies of the Clark Sisters.

But as the night went on, the Grammy Awards leaned too heavily toward yesterday, spotlighting legendary artists who are well past their prime. This was noticeable during the "rock revival" with John Fogerty, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, all of whom sounded worn and thin.

In an effort to stay relevant, it would be nice to see the Academy focus more camera time on exciting, burgeoning acts who may become legends of tomorrow.