ATLANTA — Francesca Battistelli continues her strong surge as Christian music's biggest star.
Battistelli won artist of the year at the 42nd annual Dove Awards held in Atlanta for the first time Wednesday night. She also went home with two more awards — best female vocalist and pop-contemporary recorded song.
Battistelli, 25, has surged recently with her second major label album, "Hundred More Years," which reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart last month.
"I'm on cloud nine right now," said Battistelli after the awards show, which airs Sunday on GMC, formerly known as the Gospel Music Channel. "I'm standing here ... speechless. This is totally humbling."
The awards show for gospel and Christian music left Nashville, Tenn., for the first time in its history. Organizers expected the new production in Atlanta to be just as successful.
The show's new location seemed to fit.
"I like having it in Nashville too, but we're definitely cool to have it right here in Atlanta," said Casting Crowns' frontman Mark Hall. "There's a lot going on here."
Other winners included Chris Artist, who was new artist of the year and best male vocalist. Singer Jason Crabb and the group Point of Grace joined Battistelli in claiming three Doves apiece.
Crabb won song of the year for his heartfelt single "Sometimes I Cry." He also won inspirational recorded song and traditional gospel recorded song. His father Gerald Crabb won songwriter of the year.
"Who knew both of us would've come away with an award," Gerald Crabb said. "This was a big night for us."
Point of Grace took home country album of the year and Christmas album of the year and country recorded song of the year. The all-female trio comprised of Shelley Breen, Denise Jones, and Leigh Cappillino took the stage with legendary country singer Kenny Rogers to perform his newest inspirational country melody, "The Rock of Your Love."
"It was great to be on stage with them," Rogers said. "I just met them this morning. How good are they? It was great to have them as a support system for me."
The show opened with Chris Tomlin standing in a black leather jacket and blue jeans as he performed his hit single "Our God" before Christian comedian Chonda Pierce took the stage.
"I hope Jesus comes soon, because I don't think I can stand too much longer in this dress," she quipped, as the crowd in attendance went into laughter.
Host Sherri Shepherd of ABC's "The View" followed Pierce's short comedy act and demanded attendees to repeatedly chant, "I love Jesus, I love Jesus."
Later in the show, Hall, Third Day, and Steven Curtis Chapman — who has won more Dove Awards with 56 than any other artist — performed together.
Legendary singer Sandi Patty, who showed up to the awards 75 pounds lighter, was honored for her lifetime achievements. Several singers, including Battistelli, Natalie Grant, Audrey Assad, Kerri Robert, Janet Paschal, Brit Nicole and Laura Story, each gave a rendition of Patty's past hit songs.
Patty then joined the seven singers and sang with them before she presented Battistelli with her second-straight female artist of the year award.
Patty said she feels comfortable "passing on the torch" to the other female singers, saying she was impressed with Battistelli's poise.
"She has the least amount of lines than anyone else," Patty said. "But she didn't gripe and or get mad. She just kept being gracious. I told her to never lose that."
Actress Tamala Mann, who is known for her role as Cora in Tyler Perry's plays, movies and TV show "Meet the Browns," won in the traditional gospel album of the year category over Shirley Caesar. She screamed, then eagerly pranced down the aisle to accept her first Dove Award with her husband, David Mann, who also co-stars on Perry's shows.
"This is amazing," she said. "This is a gift that God has stirred up in me. My husband has stood beside me and pushed me in every way."
Presenters included Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow; Super Bowl winner and Green Bay Packers wideout Greg Jennings; singer Ruben Studdard; and actress Kim Fields.
Tebow, who often talks about his Christian beliefs, said he it was a pleasure to introduce Third Day to highlight the group's adoption effort. The former Heisman Trophy winner said he found inspiration in many of the show's acts.Comment on this story
"To just interact with them was great," he said. "To meet them and spend time with them was great. I've listened to them for years. This was really special for me to see what they're about. When you get to know them as people, it's truly meaningful."
GMA Dove Awards: http://www.doveawards.com/