Since the bill included enough record-biz whippersnappers to fill up a youth choir, there was no way that anybody could have mistaken last night's live broadcast of the Grammy Awards for the Granny Awards. However, a handful of stirring performances by the industry's elder statesmen proved that, while the kids are all right, the old-timers are hardly ready to be put out to pasture. For music lovers who spent the evening perfecting their latest mix CDs, TV Guide Online rewinds the tape and plays back highlights (and the inevitable low points) from the well-balanced but overlong three-and-a-half-hour ceremony.

Near the end of a spirited rendition of "Lady Marmalade" by the "four badass chicks from the Moulin Rouge" all of them squeezed into and spilling forth from Frederick's of Hollywood finery a special guest, original vocalist

Patti LaBelle, stormed the stage and nearly blew the speakers, outshrieking even petite powerhouse Christina Aguilera. The laid-back members of Train bopped through their hit, "Drops of Jupiter," with a sincerity that was so magical, they might well have been sprinkled with stardust. And, though the group was backed by an orchestra, it was obvious from the first verse that they would need no assistance in playing the strings in viewers' hearts. After good-natured Latin heartthrob Alejandro Sanz was joined during his number by Destiny's Child girl-group poses, synchronized outfits and all he held his ground, letting the subdued passion in his voice keep him from getting upstaged. Can you say, "Ricky who?" That Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" sounded as fresh as ever in 2002 didn't exactly come as a shock. (Classic tunes are like that, after all.) But what a revelation it was to learn that (a) Joel's duet partner, Tony Bennett, single-handedly could resurrect the spirit of the Rat Pack, and (b) his entrance could generate the kind of hootin' and hollerin' that's usually reserved for hunk rockers like Jon Bon Jovi. Golden girl Alicia Keys proved that she's more than just another pretty voice by breaking up what had to be her zillionth run-through of "Fallin'" with a dazzling bit of flamenco dancing. She also let her sense of humor peek through her "serious artist" persona: Accepting a statuette while The King of Queens's Kevin James held on for dear life to a George Foreman cooker the Grammy goodie-bag graft that he prized most she teased him, "Can I have the grill?" Speaking of goodie bags, at the very least 'N Sync deserved some kind of extra treat in theirs for taking the biggest gamble of the marathon show.The boy band's unlikely collaboration with unruly rap act Nelly worked, against all odds. But, alas, the guys' ultradweeby, slo-mo choreography kept them from gaining any street credibility whatsoever... except maybe on Castro. If the kudofest's gag writers had been half as daring, maybe the whole affair wouldn't have seemed quite so long. As it was, most of the presenters' scripted gags fell flatter than a soufflé rising during "Lady Marmalade" rehearsals. Case in point: Before handing out the first trophy, Matthew Perry flirted with Britney Spears more awkwardly than participants in an especially disastrous episode of Blind Date. In turn, she demurred, "I kind of think of you as a friend." Where's Bruce Vilanch when you need him? Despite some groan-inducing gags, a few impromptu moments made it worth the effort to hang in there. For instance, when the orchestra cut off Alicia Keys as she rattled off a list of thank-yous that was longer than Santa's roster of naughty children, Celine Dion appeared to fume in her seat on the winner's behalf. After U2's usually speechless Edge began a tongue-in-cheek acceptance ramble, frontman Bono cut him off, chuckling, "He's a guitarist." Prompter problems plagued the Dixie Chicks, but they took the gaffe in stride, perhaps counting on the audience to be too distracted by fellow presenter Sheryl Crow's get-up a doily and a trench coat to notice. Of course, whip-smart host Jon Stewart got off a number of choice zingers. After making the best of an opening sketch that poked fun at increased safety measures "Does Security need this much assplay?" he asked while being frisked he went on to point out that, as soon as the Afghans achieved some measure of freedom, the first thing that they did was pump up the jams.

"And three days later," he added, "even they were sick of Creed."

The show-stopper, a celebrity-studded gospel jamboree led by Brian McKnight and boasting a cast of thousands (or so it seemed), would have qualified as a religious experience under any circumstances, it was so energetic. Unfortunately, by that point in the never-ending telecast, more than a few members of the audience surely were praying... to see the closing credits, for heaven's sake.