For the first time in seven years, the Grammy Awards will have a host when LL Cool J hits the stage. But the real draw is Adele, the year’s top-selling artist, making her singing debut after her fall throat surgery.

Unlike other awards shows, viewers tune in to the Grammys to see performance-based TV. Stilted podium banter and film clips give way to unique appearances from an eclectic group of musicians. The music industry may be plagued with financial troubles, but the Grammy telecast is a bright spot.

Grammy viewers surged 35% in 2010. And in a dramatic leap from its 17 million low point in 2006, last year the show drew its highest ratings in a decade with 26.5 million viewers.

“The business of music (is separate from) the appetite, interest and love of music,” says Neil Portnow, now in his 10th year as president of the Recording Academy. “Hearing the greatest music of the year continues to be of great interest to a broad audience.”

In 2009, the show earned a 7.4/18 in adults 18-49, 7.8/18 in 25-54 and a 6.9/18 in 18-34. In 2011, the telecast jumped to a 10/27 in adults 18-49, 10.8/26 in 25-54 and 9.5/28 in 18-34.

If the Grammys have been charged in the past with being too establishment, a significant increase in younger viewers has to be seen as a hopeful sign. (Younger nominees also help drive viewers not normally accustomed to tuning into CBS’ older-skewing programs.) And for an organization whose activities serve the music biz all year long, the Grammy telecast earns a significant part of the non-profit group’s annual operating income.

To this end, the improved numbers resulted in higher advertising rates, according to Nielsen. Cost for a 30-second commercial in 2009 had dropped to below $500,000 for the first time in a decade. But with better viewing numbers and more desirable demos in 2010, last year the price tag ballooned to $621,000, up 46% from the previous year’s $426,000 rate.

“Greater ratings certainly means an increase in the audience for our brand, which increases the overall value and perception of our brand,” says Evan Greene, the Recording Academy’s chief marketing officer. “With greater value and exposure comes greater credibility, and therefore increased business/monetization opportunities.”

Greene says social media has become an integral part of the Grammys’ DNA. Last year, the ceremony hit all the top trending lists on Twitter. This year, there will continue to be simultaneous web activity on Twitter, Facebook and grammy.com/live. A mobile app is also available for iPod, iPhone and iPod users, providing a “backstage pass” to Grammy night and the events leading up to it.

“Viewership has increased year to year and this is directly attributable to our social media activities,” Greene says. “Creating a great show is one thing, but you have to drive people to it and social media creates viewer engagement especially with teens and young adults.”

The Academy has capitalized on big-name performers and presenters to grab viewers. Last year, Lady Gaga provided an effective magnet.

“Gaga had her entire group of Little Monsters tuned into a show that they might not normally tune into otherwise,” says Sarah Rodman, Boston Globe’s pop culture writer. “People wanted to see what she would do, and what she did was pretty dramatic.”

Lady Gaga returns this year, and Rodman says interest is also running high for nominee Katy Perry, who experienced an eventful year on both the professional and personal fronts.

But this has been the year of Adele, whose “21” has sold approximately $6.4 million units and earned six Grammy noms including song, album and record. But fans haven’t been able to hear her sing since her surgery and she’s largely been out of the public eye while her records continue to sell.

“That will be an amazing moment,” says Ken Ehrlich, who has produced every Grammy telecast since 1980. “My hope is that no one will have seen her prior to coming on the show. She’s had an incredible year, and to pay it off with a return from surgery on the Grammys is a moment producers dream about.”

Fans have always responded to the cross-generational showcases that pair upcoming artists with their idols, not to mention other unusual match-ups.

Last year Bob Dylan teamed with rising stars Mumford and Sons and Avett Bros. This year, viewers can look forward to a performance by Glen Campbell with New Artist contenders The Band Perry and nominated country singer Blake Shelton. And Rhiannon teams with Coldplay live for the first time. Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen provide the frosting on the cake.

The Grammys also offer that moment of discovery, such as Florence Welch’s breakout contribution last year during the Aretha Franklin tribute along with heavy-hitters Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson; or Ricky Martin’s launch as an international super star after his 1999 performance of “La Copa de la vida.”

“As a longtime viewer and fan, I look forward to seeing those moments, especially the likely, or unlikely matches that are as exciting for the music fan as it is for a regular TV viewer,” Rodman says. “This is where those two collide and it works.”

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