The American Music Awards -- The show continues to play it safe, as its awards reflect the voice of the public

Will Garth Brooks — the most popular country singer in the nation — win an American Music Award this year? Will Mariah Carey? Will C+C Music Factory? The suspense is, shall we say, muy underwhelming.

The reason you don’t ever read about ”staggering upsets” taking place at the annual American Music Awards show is simple: There hardly ever are any. The program, now in its 19th year and airing Jan. 27 on ABC, has never pretended to be anything more than a yearly ”who’s hot” list. Unlike the Grammys, which are voted upon by professionals working in the music industry, the AMAs reflect the voice of the public. ”It really isn’t a competition,” says Dick Clark, longtime executive producer of the AMAs, comparing the two awards shows. ”This is, as we say, ‘of the people’ — it’s a popularity poll.”

This year marks an intriguing turning point for the AMAs: They may be becoming even more predictable. For the first time, their voting public — a national sampling of approximately 20,000 record buyers — was sent ballots bearing nominations partially supplied by SoundScan, Inc. — using the same computer-generated sales data that the high-tech information management firm supplies Billboard, and which forms the basis of Billboard‘s widely-quoted pop and country album charts.

Ironically, Billboard, too, recently entered the awards business with its own music awards show (its second annual music awards show was broadcast by Fox last December). That event, which honors those artists with the year’s highest chart performances, is also — by definition — a popularity contest. So don’t be surprised if Brooks, Carey, C+C Music Factory, Whitney Houston, and Bryan Adams — all recent Billboard winners — strain their backs lugging their American Music Awards off the stage Monday night. Though of course there will likely be some differences: While Metallica went awardless at the Billboard show, for example — the magazine has no hard-rock/heavy-metal chart for them to top — they could easily win an AMA as favorite artist in that category.

The bottom line remains, as always, numbers, and in fact the American Music Awards pull in more television viewers than any other music awards show, including the Grammys, because by their very nature they feature the artists America loves best. So if there’s any excitement to be had Jan. 27, it may very well come when the show’s popular host, Hammer, first makes his appearance. He might have dropped the ”M.C.” from his name, but what else would you call the master of ceremonies?