You won't be at all surprised to learn that Mariah Carey was nominated for Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock, at the American Music Awards in 1991. But you may be surprised to learn that she didn't win. The victor that year: Vanilla Ice, whose "Ice Ice Baby" hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 in November 1990, just as voting was getting underway.
Carey went on to be one of the biggest pop stars of the past 25 years. She has amassed 28 top 10 hits on the Hot 100. Vanilla Ice had just two. (The third nominee that year, Wilson Phillips, had four.)
That was hardly the only time that the loser of an AMA new artist prize has had greater long-term success than the winner. In 2004, the first year that the AMAs presented one overall New Artist of the Year award, Gretchen Wilson beat both Maroon 5 and Kanye West for the award.
The choice of Wilson, who had a #1 country smash that year with "Redneck Woman," shows the huge popularity of country music. So does the even more surprising outcome in 2009, when country band Gloriana beat Lady Gaga in the category. (The other nominees were Kid Cudi and Keri Hilson.)
Gloriana's eponymous debut album was a hit that year, but it was no match for Gaga's blockbuster success with her debut album, The Fame. The biggest reason for Gloriana's win: They opened for Taylor Swift on her Fearless tour that year.
It's not easy to predict which new artists will sustain (and even grow) and which will fall behind. Often, artists that have huge first years have nowhere to go but down, while those who build gradually over time have a better chance of long-term success. But the surest route to win a new artist award at the AMAs (or the Grammys) is to have a phenomenal first year.
Even acknowledging the difficulty in picking new artist winners, AMA voters have made some new artist choices that may have you scratching your head. Here are some other cases at the AMAs where a runner-up for Favorite New Artist has outshone the winner.
The Kentucky Headhunters won Favorite New Artist, Country, in 1991. The group beat Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt. The Headhunters had just one top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs—a remake of the country standard "Oh Lonesome Me." Jackson has had 50. Tritt has had 20.
C&C Music Factory won Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock, in 1992, beating Boyz II Men and Color Me Badd. Boyz II Men has amassed 10 top 10 hits on the Hot 100, compared to three for each of the other groups.
Firehouse beat Nirvana and Alice in Chains for Favorite New Artist, Heavy Metal/Hard Rock, in 1992. (The AMAs didn't have an Alternative category until 1995.) Firehouse's eponymous debut album was a hit in 1991, but the group didn't make nearly as big a long-term impact as the other two bands. Nirvana has sold 26.4 million albums. Alice in Chains has sold 15.2 million.
Kris Kross won Favorite New Artist in both Soul/R&B and Rap/Hip-Hop in 1993. They beat Arrested Development in both categories. Jodeci was the third nominee in Soul/R&B. TLC was the third nominee in Rap/Hip-Hop. Kris Kross had four top 10 R&B hits. Arrested Development had three. Jodeci had 10 (and group members K-Ci & JoJo had four more). TLC has also had 10. In fact, TLC was in the top 10 just last week as a featured artist on J. Cole's "Crooked Smile."
Billy Ray Cyrus won Favorite New Artist, Country, in 1993, beating Brooks & Dunn and Wynonna. Cyrus has had seven top 10 hits on Hot Country Songs. Brooks & Dunn had 41. Wynonna has had 11 on her own. (She also had 20 before that as one-half of The Judds.)
Spice Girls won Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock, in 1998, beating out Matchbox 20 and The Wallflowers. Spice Girls had four top 10 hits on the Hot 100. Matchbox 20 has had six (plus two more for lead singer Rob Thomas on his own). The Wallflowers had one.
Donell Jones took Favorite New Artist, Soul/R&B, in 2001, beating out contemporary gospel stars Mary Mary and pop superstar P!nk (whose first hit, "There You Go," reached the top 15 on the R&B chart in 2000). Jones had two top five R&B hits in 1999-2000, but the other acts have had greater longevity. Mary Mary had a top five R&B hit as recently as 2009. And while P!nk hasn't returned to the top 15 on the R&B chart, her string of pop hits have easily justified the exclamation point that is embedded in her name.
Billy Gilman took Favorite New Artist, Country, in 2001, when he was just 12. He beat out Keith Urban, who has gone on to major crossover success and TV stardom on American Idol. Gilman's highest-charting hit on Hot Country Songs was "One Voice", which reached #20. Urban has amassed 30 top 10 country hits. (The third nominee was Alecia Elliot.)
Trick Pony took Favorite New Artist, Country, in 2002, beating out Blake Shelton, who, like Urban, has gone on to major crossover success and TV stardom (on The Voice). He recently won Male Vocalist Of The Year for the fourth year in a row at the Country Music Awards. Trick Pony had one top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs ("On A Night Like This"). Shelton has had 18. (The third nominee, Jamie O'Neal, had three.)
Ashanti took Favorite New Artist, Pop/Rock, in 2003, beating out Kelly Clarkson and Puddle Of Mudd. Ashanti had great successes early in her career, but Clarkson has had a longer run at the top. At the end of 2004, Ashanti had had nine top 10 hits, while Clarkson had had just three. Today, Ashanti's total is still stuck at nine, while Clarkson's has swelled to 10.
Hot Chelle Rae took the overall Favorite New Artist of the Year award in 2011, beating out The Band Perry, Miguel and Wiz Khalifa. Hot Chelle Rae won on the strength of their effervescent top 10 hit "Tonight Tonight," but the other acts all have higher profiles today.
Sometimes, a new artist "loser" goes on to have a bigger impact in general—not just in terms of record sales. Milli Vanilli beat Babyface and Soul II Soul as Favorite New Artist, Soul/R&B, in 1990. Milli Vanilli's career ended in disgrace and tragedy, while Babyface has had a huge career as both an artist and a producer. Babyface has amassed 10 Grammys. Milli Vanilli, famously, had to give their one Grammy back after it was revealed that they didn't sing a note on their hit album.
Erykah Badu beat Puff Daddy and Dru Hill as Favorite New Artist, Soul/R&B, in 1992. In addition to being a big record seller, Puff Daddy has become a mogul and an entrepreneur.
Naughty By Nature beat Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch and DJ Quik as Favorite New Artist, Rap/Hip-Hop, in 1992. Marky Mark, better known today as Mark Wahlberg, has gone on to become a box-office star and a two-time Oscar nominee (as a supporting actor in The Departed and as a producer of The Fighter).
Here's one more interesting case. Tim McGraw beat Faith Hill for Favorite New Artist, Country, in January 1995. (The third nominee was The Mavericks.) No controversy there: Both McGraw and Hill went on to huge careers. And apparently there were no hard feelings after Hill lost. She signed on as the opening act on his Spontaneous Combustion Tour, beginning in the spring of 1996. The title of the tour was apt: They were married that October.
What does all this mean for this year's New Artist Of The Year nominees—Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Florida Georgia Line, Ariana Grande, Imagine Dragons and Phillip Phillips? Which artist will win the award and which will have the longest career? We'll find out the answer to the first question on Nov. 24 when this year's AMAs are telecast on ABC. We'll have to wait much longer to find out the answer to the second.