How do you explain the Stapleton effect?
The show is known for unexpected collaborations -- on past shows we paired Ariana Grande with Little Big Town, and Meghan Trainor with Miranda Lambert -- and we try to raise the bar every year. We topped the scale with Justin and Chris. I'd seen Chris for years with [his former band] The SteelDrivers at bluegrass festivals, so I always knew he was an amazing vocalist.
Has anything similar happened at past CMAs?
Yes. Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss got a little more notoriety here, but things happen so much faster today because of social media. The minute the show hit, people were saying, "Did you hear about Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake?"
Do you find yourself rooting for certain artists?
At [my previous employer] C-SPAN, we had a saying on the wall because we had to be neutral as journalists: "If you care who wins, you shouldn't work here." That's how I have to feel about the CMAs. All of the artists are our children. When they read the nominations, I'm glad I don't have a vote.