LOS ANGELES A bumper 40 million U.S. viewers watched Sunday's Grammy Awards, drawn in by the death of Whitney Houston and the performance comeback of Adele, and kept watching by a controversial religious stage act by rapper Nicki Minaj.
The telecast drew 39.9 million viewers -- the second-largest Grammy TV audience ever and the biggest since 1984, ratings data showed on Monday. Last year's Grammys show drew 26 million viewers.
But critical reaction was mixed. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times called the show "one of the dullest Grammy ceremonies in recent memory," and said "there was nothing forward-looking" about Adele's Grammy-sweeping album "21.
The Washington Post's Chris Richards criticized the Grammys for not using Houston's death as an opportunity to "memorialize a voice that once embodied the excellence the awards claim to celebrate," saying the show instead consisted of "disjointed collaborations."
Houston, 48, was found dead in a bathtub on Saturday in a Beverly Hills hotel. The exact cause of her death is still under investigation.
On the Grammy stage, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Houston with a heartfelt rendition of "I Will Always Love You."
Dolly Parton, who wrote the ballad that became one of Houston's biggest hits, said on Monday she was "brought to tears again last night" by Hudson's performance, which quickly became one of the most-searched topics on the Internet.
"Whitney - The Greatest Hits" shot to No.2 on the iTunes album chart on Monday, while Adele's single "Rolling in the Deep" was also riding high on iTunes after she sang live for the first time after throat surgery in November, and collected six Grammy trophies.
Minaj made waves with a Catholic church-inspired performance of "Roman's Holiday" that was condemned by the Catholic League.
"Perhaps the most vulgar part was the sexual statement that showed a scantily clad female dancer stretching backwards while an altar boy knelt between her legs in prayer," Catholic League president Bill Donohue said in a statement on Monday.
The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman called it an "ungodly bad performance" and British paper The Telegraph said it was the
night's "most bizarre/headscratching performance."
Minaj ignored the negative comments on Monday, saying her fan base understood her.
"It's the most comfortable I've been on stage in my entire life...I could have chosen to do a no-brainer pop song but I can't do it anymore, I have to stay true to what I'm doing," Minaj told Ryan Seacrest on Los Angeles Kiis-FM radio show.
The fusion of old and new bands drew mixed reviews, with Goodman calling the collaboration between the reunited Beach Boys, Maroon 5 and Foster the People "just sad" and "completely wrong."
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant and Piya Sinha-Roy, Editing by Christine Kearney)