To put it in music-biz terms, the American Music Awards are No. 1 with a bullet. The AMAs draw a bigger TV audience than the other major music-awards show, the more prestigious Grammys, which will be given out Feb. 20. The AMAs, now in their 18th year, strive to be the more viewer-friendly of the two programs by emphasizing popularity in the selection process. Unlike the Grammys which present trophies on the air for all kinds of music, including classical and ethnic the AMAs stick with the biggest-selling styles: pop-rock, soul, rhythm & blues, country, rap, heavy metal, and dance. The nominees in each category represent those who've topped the charts for that kind of music, and winners are determined by a public-opinion poll of everyday people. ''We're an awards show done for the public by the public,'' says a spokeswoman for Dick Clark Productions, which conceived the AMAs and puts on the show every year.
Popularity isn't everything, say members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which presents the Grammys (trophy, right). ''We're not the Dick Clark awards,'' says Ann Ruckert, a studio musician who's on the NARAS board of trustees. ''The Grammys are chosen by (music-industry) people we work with every day. They're not linked to record sales.'' But having a strong seller doesn't hurt your chances for a Grammy. With multiple nominations going to the likes of Phil Collins, M.C. Hammer, Mariah Carey, and Wilson Phillips, this year's Grammys reflect the pop charts too.