* Critics praise performances, 'demented moments'
* Timberlake sees strong pre-orders on iTunes
LOS ANGELES, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Some 28.1 million Americans watched the Grammy Awards show on television, a predictable 30 percent drop from last year's emotion-filled ceremony following the death of singer Whitney Houston, according to ratings data on Monday.
Despite the lower numbers, Sunday's 3-1/2-hour show broadcast live on CBS was the second-largest TV audience for the music industry's big night since 1993, and many critics gave the show a thumbs up.
"For the first time in too long, the Grammys telecast was a good time in and of itself - a refreshingly coherent celebration of our increasingly incoherent popscape," wrote Chris Richards of the Washington Post.
"There were A-game performances, trophy-hoarders who deserved to win them and very few reasons to wince, grouse or wish you were watching 'Downton Abbey'," Richards added.
In the absence of new music from big names such as Lady Gaga or Beyonce, Sunday's Grammy show highlighted rising stars and younger artists and spread the top prizes over a wide variety of acts.
British folk band Mumford & Sons won Album of the Year for "Babel," indie-pop trio FUN. won Song of the Year for "We Are Young" and Australian singer Gotye won Record of the Year for "Somebody That I Used to Know."
Many of the winners and performers found themselves high on the iTunes sales chart on Monday, with Justin Timberlake leading the charge with pre-orders for his upcoming album "The 20/20 Experience," his first since 2006.
FUN.'s album "Some Nights" and "Babel" were also among the Top 5 on the iTunes albums chart on Monday.
Mikael Wood of The Los Angeles Times said smaller, intimate moments, like Rihanna's stripped down balled "Stay", stood out among the bigger production numbers on Sunday night's show.
"In a 3-1/2-hour blur of high-tech spectacle, these performances felt like reaffirmations of core musical values - honest, unaffected, simple," wrote Wood
Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone Magazine noted that in the past few years "the Grammys bash has turned into the awards show that really aims to capture the crackle and sparkle of pop music, in all its demented excess. And last night was full of demented moments. It had R&B crooners and big-cheddar teen smoothies."
Sheffield said Taylor Swift's Alice in Wonderland-themed opener "set the tone for a whole night of over-the-top performances."
Sunday's telecast also featured Sting, Rihanna and Bruno Mars joined Ziggy and Damian Marley in a tribute to late reggae singer Bob Marley. Elton John teamed up with Mumford & Sons, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown Band and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes for a tribute to late U.S. rock musician Levon Helm.
The 2012 Grammy telecast attracted 39.9 million viewers and was the second-largest Grammy TV audience ever, thanks largely to British singer Adele's six wins and performance comeback after throat surgery and the drowning death of Houston in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills hotel the night before show.