Top-selling Christian pop group Casting Crowns was named, for the first time, Artist of the Year at the Dove Awards Wednesday night.
After five consecutive "Group of the Year" awards, the band was finally able to take home the night's biggest award, thanks to the fans.
Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall described the award as "extra special" because of the fan vote.
For the first time this year, fans were able to vote for the winner of Artist of the Year along with New Artist of the Year. The cumulative fan vote accounted for one-third of the total vote in those two categories.
The New Artist of the Year award went to Sidewalk Prophets.
Taking home the most Dove Awards was producer and songwriter Jason Ingram who won four awards.
Brandon Heath was named Male Vocalist of the Year for the second year in the row, and newcomer Francesca Battistelli won the Female Vocalist title, ending Natalie Grant's four-year run.
"Ahhh what a night! Made new friends, won 2 amazing awards, and got to announce that my hubby and I are having a baby!!! So blessed," Battistelli tweeted.
Her other win was in the Short Form Music Video category for "Free to be Me."
Taking the Group of the Year title from Casting Crowns was NEEDTOBREATHE. Hailing from a small town in South Carolina, the rock band also won rock/contemporary album of the year for their latest album, "The Outsiders," and rock/contemporary song of the year for "Lay 'Em Down."
The 41st Annual GMA Dove Awards comes as the Gospel Music Association took a hit in the economic downturn and began revamping staffing, events, membership, and all its operations.
In October, the struggling organization gathered the support of Christian artists and the public and raised more than $350,000 during a "Save the GMA" event.
Other winners Wednesday night included Jennie Lee Riddle for Songwriter of the Year and "By Your Side" as Song of the Year.
The Dove Awards will be televised nationwide on the Gospel Music Channel Sunday. Performers this year included American Idol Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks who sang a duet with Natalie Grant, famed Grammy winners Bebe and Cece Winans, Battistelli, and Casting Crowns.
On the Web: http://www.gospelmusic.org/