Calum Hood, Michael Clifford Luke Hemmings and Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer

Calum Hood, Michael Clifford Luke Hemmings and Ashton Irwin of 5 Seconds of Summer photographed on June 29th at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Milan by Miller Mobley.

Miller Mobley

Artist to Watch may be the VMAs' most coveted category. Which new artists should take the prize Sunday night?

It’s been a breakthrough year for Sam Smith, 5 Seconds of Summer, Charli XCX, Schoolboy Q and Fifth Harmony. But only one of these hot newcomers will walk away with a coveted Moonman for Artist to Watch at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards.

“Based on what I’m seeing, it’s a very, very tight race,” Amy Doyle, executive VP or music and talent programming strategy at MTV, tells Billboard.

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Doyle wouldn’t further speculate on who might nab the fan-voted award, which will be handed out during the VMAs on Aug. 24 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. But regardless of who wins, each nominated act has already received a significant boost in exposure thanks to MTV’s yearlong Artist to Watch campaign leading up to the annual awards show.

Prior to the 2013 VMAs, the Artist to Watch category was known as Best New Artist. MTV decided to reboot the category last year “because we didn’t have a Best New Artist campaign that lived throughout the year across all of our platforms,” says Doyle, who was featured in Billboard’s 2013 Women in Music list.

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In the year leading up to the VMAs, the Artist to Watch campaign spotlights 26 up-and-coming acts across its TV, Web and social media channels. Every two weeks, MTV showcases exclusive content from a burgeoning act, which is selected by a “team of music enthusiasts” at the entertainment brand, Doyle says, an executive producer of the VMAs. The content includes live performances, interviews, video ration, and song placement in TV shows.

“We’re trying to open the floodgates and see and hear as much as we possibly can, so that we can make really informed decisions,” she says. “We always look to put together an eclectic list that appeals to a broad group of music fans.”

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MTV announced the first round of Artist to Watch acts in January, which included Martin Garrix, Bastille, Jhene Aiko, Rixton, Chvrches, Danny Brown and Echosmith. The campaign officially kicked off with an Artist to Watch-branded showcase at Los Angeles’ House of Blues on Jan. 23 with performances by Fifth Harmony, Jake Miller, Tori Kelly, Echosmith and Rixton.

The initial list was eventually whittled down to five VMAs nominees by “an academy of voters that includes our audience, as well as industry tastemakers,” Doyle says.

Anyone is allowed to participate in the Artist to Watch campaign. But they must be on their debut album to be eligible for a VMA nomination in the category.

Pop Austin Mahone received the first Artist to Watch award at the 2013 VMAs. Other nominees that year were Twenty One Pilots (“Holding On To You”), Zedd featuring Foxes (“Clarity”), the Weeknd (“Wicked Games”) and Iggy Azalea (“Work”).

Fan voting for the 2014 Artist to Watch award is open now through about the halfway point of the VMAs on Aug. 24.

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