By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As little as 24 hours ago, all ears at Sunday's Grammy Awards were expected to tune-in to the sound of soul singer Adele who was predicted to be the top winner on music's big night.
Then Whitney Houston died.
Houston's unexplained death in a Beverly Hills hotel room on the eve of the industry's top honors shocked the music world, and Grammy organizers have changed Sunday's program to honor the singer who sold hundreds of millions of records and enjoyed hits like "I will Always Love You" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody."
Actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for her role in movie musical "Dreamgirls," will perform a medley of songs in tribute to Houston.
"We will do something appropriate tomorrow, and nothing could be more appropriate than having Jennifer Hudson sing on stage for Whitney," Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy that gives out the Grammys, said on Saturday night at a pre-Grammy party hosted by music producer Clive Davis.
The cause of Houston's death is pending an autopsy and coroner's report, but the music industry's top stars from newcomers like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Adele to veterans such as Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys will be on hand at the Grammys to reflect upon and remember Houston's life and music.
ADELE'S BIG NIGHT?
Adele, whose smash hit album "21" with chart-topping songs like "Rolling in the Deep," is nominated for six Grammys, including album of the year and record of the year.
She is second in nominations only to rapper Kanye West with seven nods, but West was shut out of the top categories paving the way for Adele to be the night's big winner -- or surprise loser if she fails to overcome stiff competition.
In the category of best album, Adele with "21" faces rockers Foo Fighters for their hit "Wasting Light," Lady Gaga with "Born This Way," Bruno Mars and his "Doo-Wops & Hooligans," and pop star Rihanna with "Loud."
Adele also figures prominently among nominees for record of the year where "Rolling in the Deep" squares off against rockers Bon Iver and "Holocene," Bruno Mars for "Grenade," Mumford & Sons with "The Cave," and Katy Perry for "Firework."
Moreover, British singer Adele will perform in front of a live audience for the first time since vocal cord surgery late last year, and fans will want to hear if her voice is back to its sultry, soulful best.
Among other key races, music fans will be watching closely include best new artist with Nicki Minaj with her debut album "Pink Friday" is picked by the pundits to win over Bon Iver, country's The Band Perry, hip-hop star J.Cole and in a nod to the growing popularity of dance music, the DJ Skrillex.
Indeed, for the first time Grammy organizers have planned a performance that spotlights dance and electronica sounds that have become increasingly popular in the past decade, moving the nightclubs and rave parties into mainstream music.
Veteran acts will be claiming their fair share of the spotlight, too, with a special life achievement award going to Glen Campbell and the Beach Boys expected to turn out on Grammys stage.
But even with all that celebration, the buzz at the show will surely turn to the 48-year-old Houston's untimely death and the comments and songs sung by artists like Hudson who have followed in her footsteps.
(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte)