Tonight, November 1, many of country music’s biggest stars (and fans) will descend upon Nashville, TN for what is billed as the biggest night in country music. The 46th Annual CMA Awards, scheduled to air live tonight on ABC, promises to offer fans the best of what they love about country music—including live performances from both new and iconic country stars and the Country Music Association’s annual honoring of achievements in the genre during the past year.
As has been the case for the past four years, Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley are returning to host the awards. Also predictably, the show will be heavy on live performances, just the way country fans like it. On the bill this year are performances by Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Luke Bryan, and many others.
As it turns out, the CMA Awards (not to be confused with the ACM Awards held in the spring) are not just country’s biggest night—they also happen to be the longest running awards show to be aired on network television. The awards have been televised since their second year in existence, beginning on NBC in 1968; that means they have been on the air more times than the 54-year-old Grammy Awards or 84-year-old Academy Awards.
Despite the CMA’s well-established tradition, with this year’s show you can expect to see the signs of major change within the country genre itself. While the CMA Awards tend to be dominated by well-established acts, many of whom receive the same honors over and over, this year (perhaps for the first time ever), the nominees are heavier on newer, younger acts than on established ones, bleeding well past the “New Artist of the Year” category. While the “old guard” is still well-represented with artists like Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Sugarland and Martina McBride on the lists, these artists will be up against a lot of newer faces, like Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Thompson Square and Love and Theft. In short—expect to see a younger, “hipper” lineup of artists as country continues to transition to the next generation.
Another interesting point of this year’s CMAs is that due to country’s expanding collaborations out-of-genre, there are several artists up for awards that aren’t country artists. Lionel Richie’s nomination for his recent foray into country is sort of expected, but (gasp!) Snoop Dogg is up for one this year, for his collaboration with Willie Nelson on “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
You can view the entire list of nominees in each category on the CMA website. Meanwhile, just for kicks, here are my personal picks for some of the major award categories. (Bear in mind, these aren’t predictions, but preferences—the ones I want to win.)
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney
MY PICK: Kenny Chesney
Yeah, I know Taylor Swift is hot again right now—mainly due to her recent monster record release—but Chesney’s album Welcome To the Fishbowl and his record-breaking tour with Brad Paisley have helped him dominate the scene this year.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Eric Church
MY PICK: Toss-up between Luke Bryan and Keith Urban
Based solely on this year’s activity, I think Luke Bryan shows an incredible amount of promise as one of country’s new vocalists. I’d be happy, though, if Keith Urban won, just because he is underrated and so often overlooked at awards time.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert
MY PICK: Carrie Underwood
Honestly, I’m not trying to snub Taylor Swift. She’s a great songwriter, but Underwood is a better vocalist—and that’s what the category is supposed to be about.
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Lady Antebellum, Eli Young Band, The Band Perry, Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town
MY PICK: Toss-up between Lady A and Little Big Town
On the one hand, Lady Antebellum continues to dominate in country music (and they’ll probably take this one); on the other hand, up-and-comers Little Big Town are really set to make their mark (dang—“Pontoon” was one of the catchiest songs of the year for me). I’ll be happy if either one wins it.
The CMA Awards will air tonight starting at 8:00 PM EDT (7:00 PM CDT) on ABC.