LAS VEGAS (AP) _ R&B newcomer Ashanti made an impressive debut at the Billboard Music Awards, taking home eight awards Monday night while rap star Nelly won honors in six categories. The album of the year went to Eminem for ``The Eminem Show.''
Ashanti, 22, was named the year's top female artist, R&B/hip-hop artist and female R&B/hip-hop artist. She also picked up awards for her single ``Foolish.''
``It's definitely an honor,'' the singer said. ``It took me such a long time to get me to where I am. I'm just really blessed and thankful.''
Nelly was named 2002's top artist, top male artist and R&B/hip-hop artist. He also won honors for his song ``Hot in Herre,'' which he performed after emerging onstage from a massive replica of a stainless steel oven with flames shooting out of its burners.
Puddle of Mudd became the first group to sweep all four rock awards since U2 did it in 1992, winning artist of the year, top rock track for ``Blurry,'' modern rock artist and modern rock track.
Nickelback picked up four awards, including the hot 100 single of the year for ``How You Remind Me.''
``I think it was not until it really started climbing up the charts. We all sort of went, 'hey I think we can stop flipping burgers,''' lead singer Chad Kroeger said.
``The Eminem Show'' is the Detroit rapper's third disc. Eminem beat out Nelly's ``Nellyville,'' Creed's ``Weathered'' and Pink's ``M!ssundaztood.''
The Billboard Awards honor the year's chart-topping artists. Cedric the Entertainer hosted the show, which aired live on Fox except on the West Coast.
The show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena began with a performance by 17-year-old Canadian singer Avril Lavigne, who had one of the year's biggest hits, ``Complicated.'' Other performers included Faith Hill, Justin Timberlake and Creed, who sang from atop the Stratosphere hotel-casino.
Aerosmith's Steven Tyler presented Cher with an achievement award, and comedian Chris Tucker gave a special ``Thriller'' award to Michael Jackson, who accepted the honor by satellite.
``I thank all the people who appreciate my work,'' Jackson said.
Tyler joined rap stars including Nelly, Busta Rhymes and Ja Rule in a tribute to Run-DMC. The pioneering hip-hop group disbanded last month after DJ Jam Master Jay was shot to death in his New York recording studio.
``I think Run-DMC's greatest achievement was its longevity,'' said a tearful Darryl ``DMC'' McDaniels.
Ashanti, whose singles ``Foolish'' and ``Happy'' made her a soul sensation this year, has already been honored as entertainer of the year at the Lady of Soul Awards. She leads the American Music Award nominations with five. Those will be announced Jan. 13.
The Billboard Awards are determined by the magazine's year-end chart listings, which are based on record sales and airplay. Winners in several categories won't be announced until later this month.