By Alison M. Rosen
Updated January 22, 2004 11:00 AM
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The Divine Ms. M almost withdrew herself from the Grammy competition when she found out that her album, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” which was nominated for best traditional pop vocal album, would be competing with Clooney’s live album, “The Last Concert.”

“Why would you give (an award) to a tribute when you have the original?” Midler, who was both a fan and friend of Clooney’s, tells the Hollywood Reporter.

Barry Manilow, with whom Midler collaborated on the nominated album, suggested that Midler stay in the competition but, should she win, give the award to Clooney’s family.

Midler has won three Grammys, including the 1974 award for best new artist. “In her entire career Rosemary never won a Grammy,” said Midler of Clooney, who died June 29, 2002 after a protracted battle with lung cancer. “I would want her family to have it.”

Midler and Clooney’s albums will compete with albums by Tony Bennett, k.d. Lang, Rod Stewart and Barbra Streisand.

Midler is currently on the Kiss My Brass tour, which features the singer backed by a horn section and an LED screen which plays short films made for the tour. Organizers say the road trip is likely to gross $50 million by the end of its four-month run in March.

Midler’s tribute album debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, making it the biggest opening week of her career.