Chatting up Sugarland, Keri Hilson, and Bryan-Michael Cox at the Georgia Grammy event

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For  Grammy nominee Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles, the thrill of getting that call saying that you’ve been nominated for one of those little gold gramophones never gets old. “Shoot no!,” Nettles told us Thursday night as she walked the red carpet at a private VIP reception for Georgia’s nominees at this year’s 52nd annual Grammy Awards.

As her songwriting partner Kristian Bush joined her, Nettles told ATL Intel that she no longer gets butterflies on Grammy night, however. Cracked Nettles: “After you’ve made a fool out of yourself in front of Paul McCartney, there’s really nothing left to be nervous about.”

>> Check out more photos from the event


The star-studded soiree held at the W hotel downtown ballroom is a way for the Atlanta chapter of The Recording Academy to honor its Georgia-based nominated artists prior to their departure for the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 31 for the televised ceremony.

But Best New Artist nominee Keri Hilson isn’t exactly new to us, after all. “I’m thrilled for her,” said Atlanta vocal coach Jan Smith. “Not only has Keri been a client for 10 years, she’s also a good friend.” The R&B songstress is up against fellow Georgia country act Zac Brown Band in the category. “It speaks to the diversity of our music scene,” Hilson explained. “We’re all representing and I love that.”

Was Hilson surprised by the nomination? “It’s what you dream of as a little girl,” the singer said. “This is what you aspire to as an artist. But when you get that call, it’s still pretty incredible!”

As usual, Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Bryan-Michael Cox had some scoop to share with us when he hit the carpet. The tunesmith, who was inducted last fall into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame last fall after penning hits for Usher, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and others, will be just as busy in 2010.

“Usher’s got a new album coming that I’m working on,” he previewed. “And I’m executive producing new albums for Monica and Anita Baker.”

But the project inspiring Cox to stretch his creative muscles the most this year? “I just wrote seven songs for Faith Hill,” Cox dished. “It’s been a new experience for me to push myself as a writer. I really want to write for other genres. I think sometimes I’m still perceived as an urban songwriter. I want to build on my portfolio.”

Alas, drama was kept to a minimum at the posh affair when RSVP-ed Real Housewives of Atlanta train wreck twosome NeNe Leakes and Kim Zolciak opted to be ridiculously tardy for the party. By blowing it off completely.

Among the best excuses we heard for a Grammy winner’s absence at the affair? Outkast member Big Boi sent along his apologies to organizers for not attending. He feared his steep driveway might be too treacherous to navigate during Thursday’s fierce snow fall. . .

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