In her fans' eyes, Adele already is tonight's winner

Updated 12:01 p.m., Friday, February 10, 2012 
  • Singer Adele. Color photos by Andrew Yee Photo: Andrew Yee / handout
    Singer Adele. Color photos by Andrew Yee
    Photo: Andrew Yee / handout

The 54th Grammys
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Network: CBS
Adele has yet to set foot on the Grammy stage - but she's already the night's big winner.
Scratch that. She's woman of the year.
Yes, the British diva with the bouffant and the alternately prickly/milky voice will probably sweep tonight's major awards. She's up for album, record, song of the year, pop solo performance, pop vocal album and music video for massive hit Rolling in the Deep - and the clear choice in each category. (Sorry, Bruno Mars and Kanye West.)
She's already a Grammy winner, picking up trophies in 2009 for best new artist and best female pop vocal performance on the strength of debut album 19 and single Chasing Pavements
"When my name got called out for best new artist, I almost burst into tears," she told me in 2009.
21, Adele's sophomore record, has confounded, exceeded and blasted expectations. It has sold more than 17 million copies worldwide, 6 million of those in the U.S. alone. It's still atop the Billboard 200 after 49 weeks and should get even more mileage out of tonight's show.
But 21 isn't simply a record-breaker. It's a bit of a revolution.
Ask around. Every person you know probably owns it or at least one of its trio of hits. Current single Set Fire to the Rain is perched comfortably atop the Billboard Hot 100. Someone Like You has been known to make grown men weep on the streets. (Remember that Saturday Night Live skit?) And the biting Rumour Has It really, really needs to be a single.
"People are hungry for real music," says Steven Tilotta, a local entertainer who has earned buzz for his eerily convincing Adele impersonation. "I think that communicates with people more than the overproduced music we hear on the radio. She is a great singer with a lot of soul, and when she sings, you believe every word. You hear her story, but you hear your own story as well."
Ubiquitous Rolling in the Deep
And then there's that song - Rolling in the Deep Adele's biggest hit to date lives on - and on and on - through drunk karaoke and TV singing competitions. Contestants on The Voice (Vicci Martinez, Angel Taylor) and American Idol (Haley Reinhart, Thia Megia) have worn out the tune with middling to marvelous renditions.
"Adele certainly has had a huge influence on the auditionees this year. I have never heard so many Adele songs. And boys and girls singing Adele," says Nigel Lythgoe, Idol's executive producer.
"That shape of singer as well has come out and feels proud - and rightly so - to come to the audition and expose their talent. And it's really good."
Indeed, Adele's big-and-beautiful attitude has made her a hero to anyone above a size 4. ("I don't make music for eyes. I make music for ears," she famously told Rolling Stone magazine.) German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld recently dubbed Adele "a little too fat," drawing the ire of passionate, protective fans via Twitter.
Nina Lombardo, who hosts karaoke at JR's in Montrose and at Roger's Bar & Grill in League City, said she hears Adele songs several times each night. She credits the blustery lyrics and sees Rolling in the Deep as "a modern-day I Will Survive." (Lombardo herself does a rousing rendition of the song.)
"There are so many reasons why this song was destined to be a hit," she says. "That beat kicks in, and even if you've heard it a million times, you can't help but tap your foot.
"If you were to talk to almost any couple that has split up since Rolling in the Deep was released, they would probably both dedicate it to their former partner. It's a soulful, syncopated, therapeutic breakup anthem. And for those few minutes, you feel invincible."
Post-surgery performance
Beyond the trophies, Adele is poised to conquer the show simply by being there. She's scheduled to perform for the first time since undergoing surgery in November. She canceled two tours, including a show at The Woodlands Pavilion, due to a hemorrhaged vocal chord, inciting rumors of throat cancer. (Her reps immediately denied it.)
It's easy to overlook the beauty of a truly great piece of work in the face of so much success, so much praise, so many singalongs. But even today, the mournful beauty of Someone Like You and Don't You Remember, the soulful swoop of Rumour Has It and He Won't Go - all from 21 - are truly astonishing.
"I fall in love every day. Falling in love is my favorite thing to do. And falling out of love is my favorite way to feel as well," Adele says. "It's quite therapeutic. Being on my knees and feeling pathetic - it was quite inspiring and encouraging, to be productive out of a bad situation. And it's the best revenge, ever."
And that's ultimately her gift to us, to the world, to a radio landscape littered with party-rockers and candy-coated divas. At her frequent best, Adele is able to channel personal turmoil into universal appeal. Unbearable angst and tear-stained drama recast as the perfect pop song.
"Pain transcends age, sex, race, sexual orientation. It is universal," Lombardo says. "I think everyone has felt the kind of pain she sings about, but they don't have the outlet to turn that kind of hurt into something beautiful. It's inspiring to see such a huge success rise from the ashes of something so dark and traumatic. She's like a big, beautiful phoenix."

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