Each year the Grammy folks award a Best New Artist statuette, sending the winner off with hopes of long-term success. But for every Mariah Carey

(1990’s winner), there’s a Marc Cohn (1991).

Some past victors are busy trying to jump start their misfiring careers (Tracy Chapman, Jody Watley), while others have disappeared entirely from the pop horizon (A Taste of Honey, Sheena Easton, Starland Vocal Band, Culture Club). So this year’s Best New Artist nominees — Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Paula Cole, Puff Daddy and Hanson — may have good reason to be apprehensive about winning.

To see who’s likely to walk away with the prize on February 25 — and to get an inside take on the future of these performers — we talked to select radio program directors and music magazine editors in the nation’s top markets.

Fiona Apple — Our experts say she won’t win Best New Artist (just as well, given her controversial MTV acceptance speech), but they believe she’ll remain popular within her genre for a long time. “Fiona Apple has lasting quality, if she keeps with the times and remains true to her original sound,” says Todd Cavanah of B96 radio station in Chicago. What’s more, Cavanah thinks Apple may pull off a surprise victory in the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance category for “Criminal.”

Paula Cole — Her seven nominations surprised some, but most everyone agrees that Cole is the real thing. Not only is she expected to be an industry mainstay, she’s also a top choice to prevail on the big night. “I’ve seen Paula perform her entire CD and there’s no question that she has talent,” says Jim Ryan, program director of WLTW in New York. “I think she has the best chance at career longevity, and she’ll probably win Best New Artist. Puff Daddy has his fans, but Paula will prevail.”

Puff Daddy — Our experts are divided on whether this year’s most controversial nominee will, or should, win the prize. But few doubt that he’ll be around for a while — in some capacity. “He’s got no career as an artist, but he’s a hell of a businessman and promoter,” says Allen Gordon, editor-in-chief of Rap Pages magazine. Cavanah disagrees: “Puff Daddy deserves to win the award. Look at how his music has crossed over. He’s hot right now.”

Hanson — Ryan thinks youth can be a curse when it comes to Grammy voters. “Hanson is very talented, but nobody wants to vote for successful people who are so much younger than they are,” he says. When it comes to career longevity, however, Cavanah sees youth as a blessing. He thinks Hanson’s instrumental ability and clean image puts the trio above such teen groups of the past as New Kids on the Block. “Actually,” says Cavanah, “Hanson is more respected by people in the industry than you might think.”

Erykah Badu — Badu’s Grammy chances appear to be stronger in the two R&B categories in which she’s also nominated. But her soulful sound and originality make her the clear favorite for career longevity. “Erykah will be around for a long time as a singer, actor, director or producer,” says Gordon. Michelle Mercer, program director of the Power 106 station in Los Angeles, thinks Badu’s stage persona will guarantee her longevity. “She’s just an incredible performer,” says Mercer. “It’s hard to imagine her ever going away.”