It’s not too early to start thinking about Grammy Award nominees, as they will be announced next month, but one story making the rounds is sure to add a layer of controversy to next year’s ceremony. Lady GaGa, widely considered to be the front-runner for the coveted Best New Artist trophy, is not eligible to be nominated for it. How come, you ask? Well, GaGa was nominated last year for Best Dance Recording for “Just Dance”. Once you are nominated for a Grammy in any other category, you are ineligible to be nominated for Best New Artist.

So, the question then becomes: who the hell is gonna win it this year? With Lady GaGa out of the picture, it becomes a pretty wide open field. The front-runners appear to be the Zac Brown Band and Keri Hilson. ZBB don’t have much in the way of name recognition, but they *do* have a platinum album as well as huge country hits with “Chicken Fried” and “Toes”. The Nashville folk will come out in droves to support these guys. Meanwhile, Hilson’s album has sold well (going Gold recently) and her many collaborations (as both a songwriter and a singer) give her some juice in the industry. This all despite the fact that her album sucks eagle balls.

Other possibilities include alt-rockers Cage the Elephant, collegiate rapper Asher Roth, and “American Idol” finishers David Cook and David Archuleta. Let’s look over at Soundscan and see what the top selling albums are this year by eligible debut artists (I’d also be curious to see whether the Grammy committee considers Miley Cyrus to be a new artist):

1) Zac Brown Band “Foundation” 1m scanned
2) Darius Rucker “Learn to Live” (yes, he’s eligible even though he already has a Best New Artist Grammy as a member of Hootie & the Blowfish) 677K
3) Keri Hilson (477K)
4) David Cook (440K)
5) Hollywood Undead (406K)
6) Jamey Johnson (391K)
7) Chickenfoot (356K…I assume supergroups are eligible)
8) 3OH!3 (295K)
9) Owl City (271K…and a #1 single)
10) The Lonely Island (262K…hey, if Justin Timberlake can win an Emmy, Andy Samberg can win a Grammy…besides, there’s a precedent here. Robin Williams was nominated for Best New Artist in 1980).

As you can see-not a choice group of artists here. This should be interested.