Jennifer Hudson

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Carrie Underwood is scared. Jennifer Hudson is riveting. Chris Brown and Rihanna are MIA, and almost as loud in their joint absence as Coldplay is in its performance.

The night's backstage doings—and sayings—at an emotional and powerful 51st Annual Grammy Awards:

5:20 p.m PT.: On stage, the Coldplay boys are banging their drums so loud that even though I'm not listening to the show telecast, my backstage self can hear them banging their drums so loud.

"I can't believe I'm holding this priceless artifact with $30 eBay dress," the Grammy-toting, Hawaiian-music-singing Tia Carrera jokes.

Uh, actually, Carrera isn't really joking. Her floor-length, sleeveless black gown and accessories ran her less than 100 bucks, she says: "It was my statement for our economic times."

President Obama probably would prefer Carrera engage in a little economic stimulus, but Carrera would prefer to playfully tweak her fellow native Hawaiian. "He went to the most expensive school in town," she says. "I went to the rather inexpensive Catholic school."

I totally forgot to go "Schwing!" when Carrera was back here. That has got to be progress. For me, and for her post-Wayne's World career.

Granted, the press that does the Grammys is a lot more fannish than it is pitbull, but I'd challenge a pitbull not to give it up even a little for Jennifer Hudson. Her breakdown at the end of "You Pulled Me Through" on the TV telecast draws applause back here. And, I'm guessing, plenty of elsewheres.

The unspoken story of the night is the still-evolving Chris Brown-Rihanna situation. The upfront theme of the night is tears. They have been flowing for hours. Literally, for hours. From George Carlin's daughter. To Frank Zappa's son, Dweezil. To Hudson. I may have the only pair of dry eyes on the premises, and that's largely due to my contacts. 

Until or unless asked, there is no talk back here among the Grammy folk of Brown and Rihanna. It's unclear if they don't want to broach the subject with us, or if they even know Brown was surrending to police for questioning of possible domestic battery even as the prime-time show got underway.

John Shearer/Getty Images

Carrie Underwood, a winner on the pre-show for Female Country Vocal, is just like you, assuming you, too, still feel kinda dorky no matter how successful you are. As Underwood confesses of her Grammy weekend party encounters—or almost-encounters, as it were: "I wanted to meet Prince, but I was just scared."

 Underwood tells me she watched the performance of Hudson, a fellow American Idol alum, on a TV monitor. The impact of the moment, however, was not lost. "I think it was healing," she says. "I hope she can find peace."

 7 p.m.: Estelle may have just nailed Kanye West, with whom she shared a Grammy win for Rap/Sung Collaboration: "Genius, crazy—it's the same thing."

Estelle may have just nailed Jennifer Hudson, too: "I was hoping she won, the chick is brave…If that had happened to be, I would've gone and hid for two years."

Anthony Hamilton won a Traditional R&B Vocal Grammy with Al Green, a last-minute performer tonight subbing for Rihanna. I ask Hamilton if he knows just how quickly the Green-Justin Timberlake opening number came together. "I think it was about an hour-and-a-half before the pre-show," he says. After a "Really?" slips out of my mouth, Hamilton backtracks a little, and seems to suggest Green was practicing last night. "He knew something could happen," he says.

If Green were practicing last night, he, or Grammy producers, are psychic. The domestic battery incident in which police say Chris Brown is being investigated, and which E! News sources say Rihanna was the victim, occurred around 12:30 a.m. today.

Duke Fakir tore it up on the telecast with Jamie Fox, Ne-Yo and Smokey Robinson. But the last surviving member of the Four Tops is true to his original group. "It was fun with those guys," Fakir says, "but there's nothing like the real deal…It was a love story because we loved each other."

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