Taylor Swift comes into Sunday's ceremony with six nominations. Michael Jackson has five. And both are up for artist of the year.
Also vying for the show's top prize are multiple nominees Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga and Eminem.
The American Music Awards honor the year's top-selling artists in the categories of pop/rock, country, rap/hip-hop, soul/R&B, alternative, adult contemporary, Latin and contemporary inspirational. Fans voted online to select the winners.
"The AMAs are like the loose, crazy cousin of the music awards," said rocker Melissa Etheridge, who was to be a presenter on the show, shortly before it began. "They've been around a long time, and they tend to go with whatever is really popular. It's everything. It's a whole big pot all stuck in together, and I love that."
Swift, who has enjoyed a chart-topping year with her crossover album "Fearless," is up for female artist and favorite album in the pop/rock and country categories. She's also nominated for favorite adult-contemporary artist.
Jackson is nominated for male artist and favorite album in the pop/rock and soul/R&B categories for his greatest-hits collection, "Number Ones." The 2003 album surged in popularity after Jackson died in June at age 50.
Eminem has four nominations: Pop/rock male artist and rap/hip-hop artist and album for "Relapse," along with artist of the year. Lady Gaga and Kings of Leon have three nods each. She's up for female artist and album for her debut, "The Fame," and the Nashville quartet is up for alternative artist and favorite pop/rock band.
Other triple-nominees include Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas and T.I.
Even more than awards, the AMAs are about the performances. That's what AMA presenter Selena Gomez was excited about.
"It's about all coming together and just enjoying music," the teen entertainer said. The performance she was most anticipating?
"Rihanna. I love her," Gomez said.
Etheridge said she was more interested in seeing Lady Gaga.
"I've got to see what she's wearing or what she's not wearing," she said.
More than a dozen artists are set to take the stage Sunday. Besides Rihanna and Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, Green Day, Jennifer Lopez, Lil Wayne, Keith Urban, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige and Adam Lambert are among those planning to perform. Janet Jackson is set to open the show with a medley of songs.