The past 12 months have been particularly good for one Canadian rock band, three Nashville upstarts, a once-imprisoned Southern rapper and an R&B diva in the throes of a major comeback. Now, Nickelback, Rascal Flatts, T.I. and Mary J. Blige are being recognized for their achievements as finalists in a leading five categories each for the 2006 Billboard Music Awards.

The 17th annual honors will boast performances by Janet Jackson, the Killers, Gwen Stefani, Fergie, the Fray, Mary J. Blige, and Ludacris featuring Pharrell and Young Jeezy. Bowling for Soup, Carrie Underwood, Carmen Electra, Dave Navarro, Flavor Flav, Three 6 Mafia, the cast of "High School Musical," Rihanna, Chris Brown and "American Idol" alums Katharine McPhee and Chris Daughtry will make appearances.

The hard-touring Nickelback is up for artist, rock artist and duo/group of the year. Its 2005 Roadrunner release "All the Right Reasons" will vie for album and rock album of the year. The set has sold 4 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Rascal Flatts, which owns the second-highest-selling album of 2006 with the Lyric Street/Hollywood set "Me and My Gang," is a finalist for artist, duo/group and country artist of the year. "Gang" is up for country album of the year.
Thanks to his Grand Hustle/Atlantic set "King," rapper T.I. is up for R&B/hip-hop artist, male R&B/hip-hop artist, rap artist, R&B/hip-hop album and rap album of the year.

Blige, meanwhile, earned finalist nods in the female artist, R&B/hip-hop artist, female R&B/hip-hop artist, R&B/hip-hop album and R&B/hip-hop single categories. Her 2005 album "The Breakthrough" has been one of this year's most consistent sellers, having shifted 2.6 million copies.

The diversity of the top awards finalists will be matched by the performers on the MGM Grand Garden stage. "We've got everything from Janet, Fergie and Gwen and their very stylized, theatrical performances, to the Fray, which will be a full-on rock'n'roll moment without all the props and colors," the show's talent producer Bruce Gillmer says.

"Some of the more intense performances definitely will take on a Las Vegas vibe, just because there's so much happening," he adds. "The venue brings out a lot of that, too, because there are so many possibilities in terms of rigging and staging."

Gillmer is especially proud of the Jackson and Fray performance segments, which are unique to this year's telecast. "It is a challenge because we're at the end of a year crowded with award shows," he admits. "But this is Janet's only big awards show appearance. Same with the Fray. There are performers who have done some of the other shows, but we're working really hard to differentiate their performances so they'll stand out."

In addition, Tony Bennett will receive the Century Award, Billboard's highest honor for creative achievement. "It will be a nice, genuine, heartfelt moment, celebrating his amazing career and the fact he's still as vital now as ever," Gillmer says. "We've also created a video package with some pretty diverse artists and friends of Tony."

Among the other multiple award finalists are Brown, Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, Kenny Chesney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sean Paul, Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland, "High School Musical," Beyonc?, Yung Joc, Dem Franchize Boyz, Shinedown and Three Days Grace.

Billboard Music Award winners are determined by performance on Billboard's weekly charts.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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