Fame is a funny, unpredictable thing in the music business: The bands and artists who industry observers swear will succeed often languish in obscurity, while acts that no one figured would ever have a shot at fame can wind up conquering the charts.

But despite the perils of such predictions, we can't help ourselves. With the beginning of a new year, we've picked out a handful of acts that drip with the signs of stardom.

Who: 3 of Hearts.

Hometown: Hurst, Texas.

Type of music: Country sprinkled with pop.

The disc: Self-titled, due out June 6.

Story so far: Composed of a trio of chipper L.D. Bell soon-to-be grads, 3 of Hearts is destined to be this year's big country success story; in fact, they kind of already are.

The girls — Blaire Stroud and Deserea Wasdin, both 17, and Katie McNeill, 18 — have already cruised the country via a mall tour, been featured in a variety of country-music magazines and landed one of their songs on the soundtrack to the Southern-fried dramedy "Where the Heart Is."

This year, though, will be the real test. Chances are, they'll pass. Their debut has success slathered all over it, from the label that's releasing it (RCA, home to Christina Aguilera) to the guy behind the production, Byron Gallimore, who has tweaked discs by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Why them: "We're the only young, nonsister country act right now," Stroud says. "There's no one else doing what we're doing."

Who: Matthew Good Band.

Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia.

Type of music: Straightforward modern rock: big guitars, swirling keyboards, monster hooks.

The disc: "Beautiful Midnight," the group's major-label debut, is on Atlantic Records.

Story so far: The Matthew Good Band is easily Canada's most popular rock band. When it came out in Canada in September 1999, "Midnight" debuted at No. 1 on the country's SoundScan chart and eventually went double-platinum. Last year, the group picked up a Juno Award — Canada's equivalent of the Grammys — for Best Rock Album and Best Group.

The band's first American single, "Hello Timebomb," has already entered Billboard's Modern Rock chart.

Why them: They fill a specific void: There aren't any hyphens in front of their rock.

Who: Jill Scott.

Hometown: Philadelphia.

Type of music: Intelligent, new-school R&B in the vein of Erykah Badu.

The disc: "Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1," out now.

Story so far: This slinky R&B angel made a quiet impact on critics last year, enough of one to score two Grammy nods for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Performance.

Why her: She could very well be this year's Lauryn Hill.

Who: Drowning Pool.

Hometown: Dallas.

Type of music: Construction-site-loud hard rock.

The disc: Still untitled but due out June 5.

Story so far: Formed a little over two years ago, Drowning Pool went through a major makeover when Dave Williams took over singing/screaming duties in 1999. The scenery change was immediate: The band's first single, Tear Away, scrambled up the top 10 list of local rock station 97.1 KEGL/The Eagle, the first sign of pending success.

Why them: Williams can go up against anyone in a screaming contest, but he also has a good sense of melody, something that sets him and the band apart from the rest of the hard-rock pack.

Who: Shannon McNally.

Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.

Type of music: Storyteller-heavy country, blues and folk.

The disc: "Jukebox Sparrows," out April 24.

Story so far: Cowboy Junkies singer Margo Timmins discovered McNally in Paris, where she was going to school. Timmins set McNally's wheels in motion, and she landed in the offices of Atlantic Records, which will release her debut.

Last year, Atlantic organized a mini-Lilith Fair, the Girls Room Tour, to showcase a trio of new female talents. McNally fared the best, landing comparisons to country-blues goddesses Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt.

She has already been featured on MTV's acts-to-watch-for show, "You Heard It First," and in March, McNally will play Austin's make-or-break South by Southwest music-industry festival. Oh, and this spring, she'll lend herself to hip makeup line Urban Decay for its spring campaign blitz — a sure sign that, at the very least, this won't be the last time you see her face.

Why her: Like alt-country untouchable Shelby Lynne, McNally's image is just as powerful as her music. She'll be here awhile.