Miss California feels the love at Christian awards show; Steven Curtis Chapman honored

Steven Curtis Chapman

capped an emotional year in which he lost his 5-year-old daughter in a tragic accident by winning artist of the year during the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards on Thursday.

Chapman won the night’s top honor for the seventh time in his career, which spans more than two decades and includes five Grammy Awards and 56 Dove Awards. The category was one of two in which fans chose the winner, the other being new artist of the year.

Chapman’s 5-year-old daughter,

Maria Sue

, was killed last May when she was accidentally hit by a vehicle driven by her older brother in the driveway of the family’s home.

The singer, who stood beside his wife,

Mary Beth

, said the tragedy allowed the family to share their faith.

“There are a lot of reasons that are unique to this year that are probably why I’m standing here,” said Chapman, who also took songwriter of the year honors.

“In the last year, we’ve been given an opportunity we never would have signed up for to communicate the hope we have.”

Chapman performed a touching ballad, “Cinderella,” he dedicated to his late daughter, prompting a standing ovation.

Backstage, he said the experience of the past year has deepened his understanding of his songs.

Other big winners were

Brandon Heath
Natalie Grant

, who won the female vocalist trophy for the fourth year in a row.

Tenth Avenue North won new artist of the year. The group’s singer

Mike Donehey

described the award as “icing on the cake.”

“When we set out to make this album we made a bold, audacious prayer that we wanted people to not just hear the songs but to encounter Christ himself,” Donehey said.

Miss California

Carrie Prejean

received a standing ovation when she introduced a performance by Mercy Me of their hit “I Can Only Imagine.”

Prejean has drawn attention for her comments against gay marriage at the Miss USA pageant, where she was first runner-up last weekend.

Prejean did not speak about the controversy during the show, but backstage she said she had no regrets about her remarks and learned from the experience that “you have to stay true to your beliefs.”