Pop diva Mariah Carey, whose once flourishing career was left for dead after a series of artistic misfires and a public meltdown, has returned -- officially and emphatically. Her remarkable comeback reached a peak yesterday when nominations for the 48th Grammy Awards were announced and Carey sashayed away with eight, including one for the biggest award of all: album of the year.

"The Emancipation of Mimi," Carey's most successful release in years, will compete at the Feb. 8 ceremony with Kanye West's ambitious rap opus, "Late Registration," U2's soulful rock cycle, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," and Gwen Stefani's delightfully dippy dance-pop collection, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." Apparently reflecting the recording academy's longstanding affection for the old guard, Paul McCartney's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" also received an album-of-the-year nod. It's Sir Paul's best work in a long time. But still.

Centered on Carey's titular alter ego, "The Emancipation of Mimi" is the sound of a struggling artist resurrecting her career. Carey ruled the charts in the 1990s, but in recent years, the singer had suffered through considerable personal and professional turbulence. She endured an emotional breakdown, her commercial appeal evaporated and her record label of the time sent her packing, with millions in get-lost money.

So much for that!

"When you have a voice, when you have incredible talent like Mariah Carey has, you can never really be counted out," said Mimi Valdes, editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine.

Carey's eight Grammy nominations put her atop the leader board, where she tied rapper Kanye West and R&B singer John Legend. Stevie Wonder, 50 Cent, Beyonce and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas were two strokes off the pace with six nominations apiece, while Stefani, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys and Missy Elliott received five each.

Gretchen Wilson and Brad Paisley were the leading country artists, with four nominations each.

Carey's hit single, "We Belong Together," is up for record and song of the year -- the latter category recognizes the songwriter -- plus the more specialized R&B songwriting and female R&B vocal performance awards. "It's Like That," the other big track from "The Emancipation of Mimi," got a nod in the female pop vocal category, and a third "Mimi" entry -- "Mine Again" -- is up for best traditional R&B vocal performance.

"The Emancipation of Mimi" is also up for best contemporary R&B album. Not to be confused with, simply, best R&B album.

(R&B, according to Grammy: Wonder, Keys, Fantasia, Legend and Earth, Wind & Fire. Contemporary R&B: Mariah, Mario, Omarion, Destiny's Child and Washington's own Amerie.)

While Carey is the headline story in Grammyland, West is trying to ensure that he gets the subhead: The megalomaniacal artist has been doing some preemptive whining, telling MTV News that he's doing to be very, very, very disappointed if the admittedly excellent "Late Registration" doesn't win album of the year simply because West scratched his "politically incorrect" itch earlier this year.

You remember that whole "George Bush doesn't care about black people" thing? West is pretty sure that the 12,000 (or so) Grammy voters do -- and that they'll penalize him accordingly.

Thus, there's major hissy-fit potential when the Grammy ceremony is held in Los Angeles on Feb. 8. Particularly since there's precedence: When West didn't win the best new artist award at the American Music Awards, he huffed and puffed and generally comported himself like a big baby.

Perhaps he should just take a deep breath and pat himself on the back of his Yves Saint Laurent suit. His eight Grammy nominations -- including record of the year for the infectious "Gold Digger," the rap songwriting award for "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" and best rap album and best album album for "Late Registration" -- come a year after he scored 10 nominations for his debut CD, "College Dropout," among other projects. (He wound up winning three statuettes.)

And besides, the third big winner on nomination day was West's own sidekick, Legend, who has collaborated extensively with his mentor and whose album, "Get Lifted," was released on West's boutique label.

An old-style soul singer trapped in a hip-hop world, Legend is up for, among other awards, best new artist, where he'll compete against the emo idols Fall Out Boy, crunk princess Ciara, piano-rockers Keane and the country outfit SugarLand. (Notable by its absence: the Arcade Fire, though the indie-rock band's "Funeral" is nominated for best alternative album and the band's "Cold Wind," featured on HBO's "Six Feet Under," is up for best song written for movies or TV.)

Legend is also in the running for song of the year. His composition "Ordinary People," co-written with the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, will compete for Grammy's highest-profile writing award with Springsteen's "Devils & Dust," U2's "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," Carey's "We Belong Together" (for which the singer shared co-writing credits with three others) and "Bless the Broken Road," penned by Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna and Marcus Hummon and performed by Rascal Flatts.

Carey is the only song-of-the-year candidate to be nominated for record of the year as well. Vying against her in the latter category: West ("Gold Digger"), Green Day ("Boulevard of Broken Dreams"), the Gorillaz ("Feel Good Inc.") and Stefani ("Hollaback Girl," the tune that taught a generation how to spell bananas).

Nominees with Washington ties include Amerie (contemporary R&B album for "Touch" and female R&B vocal performance for the insanely funky "1 Thing"); Deep Dish (dance recording, "Say Hello"); Emmylou Harris (female country vocal, "The Connection"); Tom Paxton (traditional folk album, "Live in the UK"); incoming Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop (as conductor in the category of best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra, "UFO"); and National Symphony Orchestra music director Leonard Slatkin (three nominations for his "Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and of Experience" recording, including best classical album).

The Foo Fighters, founded and fronted by Northern Virginia's Dave Grohl, received four nominations: Rock album ("In Your Honor"), rock song and rock performance by a duo or group ("Best of You") and pop collaboration with vocals ("Virginia Moon," featuring Norah Jones). And Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer were nominated in the musical album for children category, for "Scat Like That: A Musical Word Odyssey." It's their 11th nomination. They also performed on and produced Paxton's Grammy-nominated live album.

"We're not bored by this; it's not old hat," Fink insisted of the nominations. "It's a total thrill for us."

Oh, and in perhaps the only time you'll ever see Bob Dylan and R. Kelly mentioned in the same sentence: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese's outstanding Dylan documentary, "No Direction Home," will square off against R&B singer Kelly's strangely compelling, five-part "Trapped in the Closet" soap opera in the best long-form music video race. "End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones," "Brian Wilson Presents 'Smile' " and Springsteen's "Devils & Dust" are also in the running.

Mariah Carey and Kanye West will vie for both record of the year and album of the year.Alicia Keys and U2 both received five Grammy nominations, including best R&B album for Keys's "Unplugged," and best album for U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."Country singer Brad Paisley got four nominations, as did Gretchen Wilson.