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Music Producer Eyes Simon Cowell's 'Idol' Chair; 'Billboard' Releases Annual Top Money-Maker List


Grammy-winning producer Steve Lillywhite is on a mission to fill Simon Cowell's seat as a judge on "American Idol." Cowell is leaving the show after the ninth season ends in May to focus on bringing his British talent competition "X Factor" to American television. Billboard reports that Lillywhite has hired an agent and publicist, and also posted a YouTube video touting his credentials for the job. He says, "I'm quite effervescent. I'm quite opinionated. I'm funny. I can do this job." Born in England and now living in New York, Lillywhite has produced recordings by U2, the Rolling Stones, the Dave Matthews Band, and many others. He's currently producing the upcoming album by Evanescence.

Ron Banks, lead singer of the R&B group The Dramatics, died of a heart attack on March 4. He was 58. At 19, Banks joined The Dramatics. The group's hits include "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," "In The Rain" and "Hey You! Get Off My Mountain." Three other members of The Dramatics preceded Banks in death. Elbert Wilkins died in 1992 of a heart attack at age 45, William Howard died of a heart attack at age 49 in 2000 and keyboardist James Mack Brown died in 2008 at age 58.

Billboard has released the Top 40 Money Makers of 2009. Topping the list is U2 with $108.6 million. Rounding out the Top 5 are Bruce Springsteen with $57.6 million, Madonna with $47.2 million, AC/DC with $43.6 million and Britney Spears, who earned $38.8 million last year. Kenny Chesney was the top earner in Country music. He made $26.5 million in 2009.

On March 9, Reprise Records will release the Bee Gees' four-CD box set, "Mythology." Each disc is devoted to a different Gibb brother - Barry, Robin, the late Maurice and their late younger brother Andy. The 50th anniversary set spans the Bee Gees' five-decade career with 81 tracks that include many hits, plus some rare and previously-unreleased recordings. "Mythology" is packaged with a collection of family photographs and tributes from such artists as Elton John, Brian Wilson, George Martin, Graham Nash and the Bee Gees' longtime manager Robert Stigwood.

Singer Josh Kelley recently signed a recording deal with MCA Nashville and is now working on his first Country album. He said, "Universal is a perfect home for me and my music. They have an awesome track record of allowing artists to be who they really are, and have already been so supportive of my new music. I'm stoked to be part of such a talented group of artists and staff." Josh, who is married to actress Katherine Heigl of "Grey's Anatomy," recorded six pop albums between 2003 and 2008. His brother, Charles Kelley, is a member of the popular Country group Lady Antebellum. Lady Antebellum is performing two sold-out concerts at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium March 10-11. Josh will perform an acoustic set before Lady A makes their debut on the historic Ryman stage.

NEW ALBUM RELEASES:

New albums scheduled for release on March 9 include: "Get Off On The Pain" by Gary Allan, "Plastic Beach" by Gorillaz, "Valleys Of Neptune" by Jimi Hendrix, "Battle of the Sexes" by Ludacris & Shawna, "Reggie Noble 9 ½" by Redman, "25" by Patty Larkin, "San Patricio" by the Chieftains & Ry Cooder and "Greatest Hits" by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.

AWARDS PRESENTATIONS/WINNERS:

Keri Hilson, Maxwell and Mary J. Blige were among the winners in the Recording categories at this year's NAACP Image Awards. Hilson was named Outstanding New Artist, Maxwell took home the Outstanding Male Artist trophy and Blige won in the categories of Outstanding Female Artist and Outstanding Album for "Stronger With Each Tear." Other music category winners included The Black Eyed Peas, Wynton Marsalis, BeBe & CeCe Winans, Sila and the Afrofunk Experience, Whitney Houston and Mary Mary. The 41st annual NAACP Image Awards also recognized entertainers in film, television and literature.

Lady Antebellum leads the nominees for this year's Academy of Country Music Awards. The trio picked up seven nominations, including Top Vocal Group, Album of the Year for their self-titled debut CD and Single Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Video of the Year for "Need You Now." Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert followed with six nods each. Carrie is nominated in the Entertainer of the Year category, which also includes Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and the Zac Brown Band. The 45th annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be held in Las Vegas on April 18. Reba McEntire will host the show for the 12th time.

TOUR DATES AND INFORMATION:

On March 10, pop crooner Michael Buble will kick off a U.S. tour in Orlando, Florida. He'll be supporting his latest album "Crazy Love," which has sold more than four million copies since its release in October 2009. After wrapping up U.S. dates on April 9, Buble will take a few weeks off before heading to Europe. The European leg begins in the United Kingdom on May 6.

Country star Carrie Underwood will begin her 54-date "Play On Tour" on March 11th in Reading, Pennsylvania. Craig Morgan and Sons of Sylvia are Carrie's special guests on the North American outing, which wraps up on June 20 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Underwood's latest album, "Play On," features her current Top 10 hit, "Temporary Home."

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