By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Grammys in recent years have targeted young audiences even as older acts won key awards to the surprise of some music fans, but this Sunday's honors will shine its spotlight on Adele, whose popularity crosses all age boundaries.
The soulful British singer, whose album "21" has spawned massive hits like "Rolling in the Deep" and topped charts for 19 weeks, enters music industry's biggest awards with six nominations, second only to rapper Kanye West with seven.
But all ears will be tuned in to Adele, 23, who is scheduled to give a Grammy performance that is her first since undergoing throat surgery late last year. And everybody -- young and old -- wants to know if 2011's top-selling performer has recovered.
"My eight-year-old daughter sings Adele songs, and my friend's 75-year-old grandmother sings Adele songs," said Nic Harcourt, former radio host at KCRW, who is among those credited with helping put the British chanteuse on the U.S. music map.
Adele's voice was a breath of fresh air in 2011 for a struggling industry. "21" album sold more copies in one year than any other act since Usher's "Confessions" in 2004. Its current U.S. sales total is roughly 6.3 million copies.
In years past, the Grammys have often seen relative newcomers in top categories like album of the year face off against veteran acts, only to see the older performers win, shocking the youth-driven industry. Herbie Hancock's 2007 jazz album, "River: The Joni Letters," was among the recent surprises.
That won't happen at Sunday's ceremony in Los Angeles. Competing for album of the year are Adele with "21," Lady Gaga for "Born This Way," Rihanna with "Loud," Bruno Mars for "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" and Foo Fighters for "Wasting Light."
Indeed, many of the major categories are dominated by younger pop stars like Adele, Gaga, Katy Perry and Rihanna. Traditional rockers are largely missing, with the exception of legends Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen who are both set to perform at Sunday's show in Los Angeles.
ADELE, NO POP CONFECTION
But in an ironic twist, Adele gained stardom precisely because she has appealed to so many audience groups with her soulful ballads such as "Someone Like You" that sound like a throwback in an industry dominated by electronic dance music.
"She's got a little more substance and is not just a pop confection. With a classic sound, veteran Grammy voters will have no problem supporting her, while she also reaches the young," said Bob Merlis, president of MFH Publicity.
Adele's singles have been played on multiple radio formats, helping to sell albums to older consumers as well as younger fans who tend to buy music online.
David Bakula, senior vice president, analytics of entertainment for Nielsen said Adele has "gone beyond the bounds of a simple pop artist, which appeals to a younger, more singles-driven crowd. Katy Perry's a good example of a star who sells tons of singles, but not tons of albums."
Elsewhere, Kanye West's seven nods crown a critical and commercial comeback for the controversial 34-year-old rapper who took a self-imposed hiatus from performing in 2009.
West recorded his best rap album contender "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" in Hawaii after removing himself from the mainstream music scene following harsh criticism over his 2009 outburst involving country starlet Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Already a 14-time Grammy winner, he is nominated for song of the year for "All of the Lights" and best rap performance with Jay-Z for "Otis".
The best new artist category reflects an eclectic mix of artists, from female rapper Nicki Minaj and hip-hop artist J. Cole, to country sensations The Band Perry, house and electropop performer Skrillex and American folk band Bon Iver.
"Rhinestone Cowboy" singer Glen Campbell, 75, currently on a
goodbye tour after announcing he has early stage Alzheimer's disease, will receive a lifetime achievement award and will perform with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton.
Other performers will include veteran crooner Tony Bennett -- who is nominated for his "Body and Soul" duo with the late Amy Winehouse -- Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Jason Aldean, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Brown.
Bonnie Raitt will perform in remembrance of "At Last" singer Etta James, who died in January at the age of 73, and rapper and "NCIS: Los Angeles" actor LL Cool J will be the first official host of the Grammy Awards in seven years.
Winners are determined by about 13,000 members of the Recording Academy, but only a handful of trophies in the 78 categories will be handed out on Sunday's live telecast.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bob Tourtellotte)