The 46th annual Country Music Association annual awards ceremony will take place on November 1, 2012 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The show will air live on ABC television again this year and is presented by the pairing of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who will take over hosting duties for the fifth consecutive year. Eric Church and his massive hit “Springsteen” lead the list of nominees, with Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton close behind him.
On awards night, look for a musical tribute to Willie Nelson and The Band Perry to debut the first taste of their Rick Rubin produced sophomore album. There’s also talk that Female Vocalist nominee Kelly Clarkson will debut “Don’t Rush” on the telecast, a duet with Vince Gill featured from her Greatest Hits, Chapter One album in stores Nov. 19. Also look forward to a duet from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (which I’ve heard is during the Nelson tribute), and solo performances from each.
Entertainer of the Year
Taylor Swift - Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey
The usual solid yet unspectacular group. Carrie Underwood fans are likely fuming at yet another snub, while everyone else will bark at the inclusion of Swift, a two-time winner and the incumbent, for her increasing lack of country credibility. But Aldean is the nominee to watch, as his recent stadium tour announcement will likely endear him to voters in the years to come.
Jonathan Pappalardo: I’ll bet on the safest choice this time around and say Taylor Swift is going to win. Chesney may have had the biggest tour, and Aldean is on fire right now, but Swift has the lock on this category.
J.R. Journey: Taylor Swift now not only represents about one-fourth of the total United States GDP, she also hawks makeup, perfume, and shoes on the side. And she just had the #1 song in 12 countries. I say Swift is most likely to succeed on CMA night.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Miranda Lambert - Jonathan Pappalardo
Taylor Swift - J.R. Journey
Kelly Clarkson, really? She did score a #21 hit with the country version of “Mr. Know It All” so her nomination is somewhat, albeit very marginally, justified. She has yet to fully embrace a career in country music. McBride is a snoozer scoring her 14th consecutive nomination and 15th overall as her career takes a downward spiral. See, this is what happens when all the great female artists of late (Kimberly Perry, Jennifer Nettles, Shawna Thompson) are members of duos and groups.
Jonathan Pappalardo: While I’d love to see this award go to Clarkson (to tick off the industry if nothing else), she’s a pop singer who’s done a bang up job covering country songs in concert. That’s about it. Miranda Lambert, meanwhile, is the biggest star in country music right now that actually looks and sounds country. And her intuition to form the Pistol Annies proves she’s not afraid to take creative risks. Its her award to lose, and I don’t foresee that happening.
J.R. Journey: Taylor Swift is the likely winner here for pretty much the same reasons she’ll win Entertainer of the year. Miranda Lambert’s new solo music is way below her usual standards this year and I think Carrie Underwood’s dog already had its day in this category, so I don’t see voters leaning toward either of them.
Male Vocalist of the Year
Blake Shelton - Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey
Another somewhat standard list until you take into account Urban is here in place of red-hot Dierks Bentley. Bentley’s exclusion, which comes on the heels of three back-to-back #1 hits is shocking. Urban should be joining Brad Paisley and been made to sit this one out this year.
Jonathan Pappalardo: There’s seemingly no stopping Blake Shelton right now despite one mediocre single after another. He’s the biggest star here next to Jason Aldean and the all around better vocalist. He’ll sail to his third straight win no problem.
J.R. Journey: Blake Shelton is coming off two consecutive wins here and his visibility remains higher than Aldean’s, the next closest competitor. Long shots for the win Luke Bryan and Eric Church are still newcomers and first time nominees leaving Keith Urban the longest shot “veteran” slot. For my money, Shelton will repeat a third time here.
Vocal Group of the Year
The Band Perry - J.R. Journey
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum - Jonathan Pappalardo
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band - Occasional Hope
On chart hits alone, all five deserve to be here this time around, making this a highly competitive category. It’s also nice to see the exclusion of Rascal Flatts as their already bland material has only gotten worse in recent years.
Jonathan Pappalardo: I’ll keep predicting wins for Lady Antebellum until the day they lose, which I’ll have to see to believe. But the most deserving this year is Little Big Town. “Pontoon” wasn’t just their biggest single, but its country music’s song of the summer. Zac Brown Band has also yet to score a deserving win, but LBT has been waiting for their time in the spotlight for far too long. Still, Lady A is going to walk away the winner – is there any reason to bet against them anyways?
J.R. Journey: I wish I could tell you this was the Zac Brown Band’s year to win, but I cannot. I do believe Lady Antebellum’s reign is over, but it’s gonna be the trio of siblings from Alabama taking their place instead of my favorite band of Georgians.
Vocal Duo of the Year
Big & Rich
Love and Theft
Sugarland - J.R. Journey
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square - Jonathan Pappalardo
Another interesting list. Sugarland shot themselves in the foot with Incredible Machine and thus are the least likely to repeat in this category. Love and Theft just scored their first #1, and Thompson Square have the ACM momentum.
Jonathan Pappalardo: They’ve yet to repeat the monster success of “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” in their last two tries, but Thompson Square are far from one hit wonders. Shawna may not be the most flashy female vocalist, but she’s the most akin to the genre’s traditions. On that alone, they’re going to win.
J.R. Journey: Sugarland hasn’t release any new music this year, and yet they still outperformed their closest competition by a mile. Jennifer Nettles’ stint on ABC’s summer show Duets and the duo’s best-selling 2012 tour should solidify their sixth straight win.
New Artist of the Year
Lee Brice - J.R. Journey
Love and Theft
Thompson Square - Jonathan Pappalardo
If we ever needed proof country music is in a rut, this is it. No one on this list has proven truly outstanding in anything they’ve done to date, and none have displayed the integrity to correctly push the genre forward.
Jonathan Pappalardo: Brice, Gilbert, and Hayes are so even I can’t predict between the three. That may give Thompson Square the edge.
J.R. Journey: I really think this one could go to any of these acts. So I’ll pick … eeny, meeny, miny … Lee Brice.
Album of the Year
Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines
Eric Church, Chief
Miranda Lambert, Four the Record - J.R. Journey
Dierks Bentley, Home - Occasional Hope
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night - Jonathan Pappalardo
The significance of this category is huge. For the first time since his MCA debut When I Call Your Name, Vince Gill isn’t nominated. Guitar Slinger was one of the best country records of 2011 and deserved to be on this list. Also missing are George Strait’s Here For A Good Time, despite the fact his last two albums won, and Pistol Annies for their excellent Hell on Heels.
Jonathan Pappalardo: Rest assured, country fans, three of the best country albums of 2011 aren’t here, but we do get Lady Antebellum’s Own The Night. The category wouldn’t be complete without it, now would it? It’s also most likely to win – it did win the Best Country Album Grammy after all – and will. I feel like I could be mistaken in saying that, and if so the award should go to Chief. The Church album is the best of this list and the most original commercial country album of 2011. Four The Record was good, but nowhere near the caliber of Chief.
J.R. Journey: I see only Lambert and Church as the serious contenders here, with the others being just category filler. While Church’s album is more consistent than Lambert’s most recent offering, the CMA awarded her the trophy for another uneven collection 2 years ago. I’m guessing she’ll take home trophy #2 in this category.
Occasional Hope: Dierks Bentley should win for his canny mix of mainstream appeal and artistry which has allowed him to regain his hot streak at country radio after they responded lukewarmly to ‘Up On The Ridge’.
Song of the Year (Award goes to songwriters)
“Even if It Breaks Your Heart” – written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
“God Gave Me You” – written by Dave Barnes
“Home” – written by Dierks Bentley and Jon Randall Stewart - Occasional Hope
“Over You” – written by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton - Jonathan Pappalardo
“Springsteen” – written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell - J.R. Journey
Another boring list. The exclusion of “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” is a travesty, and George Strait should’ve been honored for his songwriting contributions to Here For A Good Time. But the inclusion of “Springsteen” proves the voters still care to recognize quality.
Jonathan Pappalardo: Hands down, “Springsteen” is the best song of this bunch and should win. But I can already see Lambert and Shelton accepting this award together (for “Over You”) and I’m very happy about it.
J.R. Journey: Superstar couple Lambert and Shelton could pick up a win here with their considerable combined goodwill, but I see this category as Eric Church’s best chance at a win. Church is going in with more nominations than anyone else and I don’t think voters are going to send him home empty-handed after his big breakthrough year at radio and retail.
Single of the Year (Award goes to artist and producer)
Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem” - J.R. Journey
Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You”
Dierks Bentley, “Home” - Occasional Hope
Little Big Town, “Pontoon” - Jonathan Pappalardo
Eric Church, “Springsteen”
Aren’t the nominations for Aldean’s awful rap over? Shelton, meanwhile, has been nominated for one of his grossest productions ever. Bentley’s patriotic anthem is wonderful, and Church’s ode to young love is his best single yet.
Jonathan Pappalardo: I’m leading towards, “Home” but could also see “Springsteen” sneak in a win. But as far as singles of the year go, “Pontoon” is about as big as it gets. Sure it’s frivolous, but unlike the Aldean hit “Pontoon” is harmless fun, and LBT deserve anything the CMA decide to throw their way.
J.R. Journey: I’m not a fan of Jason Aldean’s music and hearing this particular single on the radio always sends me off into an outburst about how “hick-hop” has made my country music station unlistenable. Still, Aldean’s single sold 3 million digital downloads and hit the top 10 on the U.S. chart. It also helped propelled the My Kinda Party album to near triple platinum sales and generally solidified the singer’s superstar status. So I’ll give the devil his due. In the past this award has generally been based on a song’s performance more than its merits anyway.
Musical Event of the Year
“Dixie Highway,” Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band - Occasional Hope
“Feel Like a Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw - Jonathan Pappalardo
“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson featuring Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson
“Safe and Sound,” Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars - J.R. Journey
“Stuck on You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker
The most thought out and interesting list, by a wide margin. The Jackson duet is the most exciting song from Thirty Miles West, the Swift duet is the most compelling single of her career, and the Nelson song is a hilarious classic in the making. The reworking of Richie’s classic suits him and Rucker well, while the only clunker is the awful McGraw/Chesney duet, an excuse for them to have something to sing together on stage over the summer.
Jonathan Pappalardo: The CMA can’t resist when two genre superstars team up, and will act accordingly by giving “Feel Like A Rockstar” the win. But “Safe and Sound” is the most compelling track of this bunch, and the best single and vocal of Swift’s career to date. The Civil Wars are artistic masterminds, and this single proves that in spades.
J.R. Journey: I’d go for the Willie track here – it’s the only one on my iPod – but I’m guessing the crossover appeal of Swift’s trietting with the Civil Wars will get the trophy.
Music Video of the Year
Eric Church, “Springsteen”
Kenny Chesney, “Come Over”
Miranda Lambert, “Over You”
Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup” - Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey, Occasional Hope
Of these, Church has the best video, followed by Little Big Town. What’s so remarkable about the whole “Pontoon” thing is LBT haven’t caved into any pressure to act like 20 year-olds. They’re being completely themselves all the while making millions. Of the others, Keith’s video is stupid fun, Chesney’s is all sex and no substance, and Lambert’s is as boring and depressing as the song.
Jonathan Pappalardo: “Red Solo Cup” is going to win here, as Toby Keith managed to make a video as stupid as the song all the while perfectly capturing the mood of the lyrics.
J.R. Journey: I had to go and actively seek out every one of these clips except for “Red Solo Cup”. These days seeing a music video on TV is as rare as finding Willie Nelson’s hairbrush. I caught Toby Keith’s video late one night on VH1, and it’s my favorite of these clips even if the song isn’t so great.
Occasional Hope: My one controversial pick. I have a sneaking liking for “Red Solo Cup”. Yes, it’s appallingly stupid, but it knows it and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Musician of the Year
Mac McAnally - Jonathan Pappalardo
The award I know the least about, but they’re all talented musicians. Can’t go wrong with any of them.
Jonathan Pappalardo: Mac McAnally is too strong to bet against and a lock in this category. Sam Bush, meanwhile, should win for the sake of variety.
What are your picks to win this year?