Mitchell Tenpenny Continues a Banner Year For Fresh Faces in the Country Airplay Chart's Top 10

Jim Wright
Mitchell Tenpenny

Mitchell Tenpenny earns his first top 10 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, as his debut single "Drunk Me" ascends 11-9 on the list dated Nov. 3, increasing by 11 percent to 24.8 million audience impressions in the week ending Oct. 28, according to Nielsen Music.

"Drunk" is from Tenpenny's debut LP Telling All My Secrets, due Dec. 14.

Tenpenny becomes the eighth artist to hit the top 10 in a first visit to the Country Airplay chart in 2018, so we thought that this was the perfect time to see exactly how rookie-friendly the survey has been so far this year, compared to the same span (measuring each January through the first week of November) last year, five and 10 years ago.

It's safe to say that 2018 easily tops the other years, with eight artists reaching the Country Airplay top 10 with maiden entries, compared to five in 2017, two in 2013 and three in 2008.

Before Tenpenny, the artists to reach the Country Airplay top 10 in 2018 with their first entries (in chronological order): Devin Dawson ("All on Me," No. 2 peak), Jordan Davis ("Singles You Up," No. 1), Bebe Rexha (with Florida Georgia Line on the No. 1 "Meant to Be), Julia Michaels (as featured on Keith Urban's "Coming Home," No. 3), Tori Kelly (as featured on Chris Lane's "Take Back Home Girl," No. 8), Morgan Evans ("Kiss Somebody," No. 3) and Jimmie Allen ("Best Shot," currently up to No. 3).

In 2017, the five artists to hit top 10 in first visits: Rhiannon Giddens (as featured on Eric Church's "Kill a Word," No. 6), Luke Combs ("Hurricane," No. 1), Backstreet Boys (as featured on FGL's "God, Your Mama, And Me," No. 1), Midland (Drinkin' Problem," No. 3) and Carly Pearce ("Every Little Thing," No. 1).

(Notably, Russell Dickerson's first Country Airplay top 10, "Yours," reached the region on Dec. 23, 2017, just after the sampled time period ending Nov. 4; it hit No. 1 Jan. 27.)

2013's freshman class for the stat consisted of Kacey Musgraves and Pistol Annies, while 2008 welcomed Miley Cyrus, Chuck Wicks and Zac Brown Band.

Is radio opening up more to new artists, including pop crossovers like Rexha, Michaels and Kelly?

"I'm not that surprised that we had so many new artists debut so strongly over the past couple of years," KKBQ Houston program director Johnny Chiang tells Billboard. "After focusing on one type of sound, bro country, for so long, the industry realized we needed more than ever to cultivate fresh blood and take our format to the next level. And, by industry, I mean both the Nashville machine and country radio.

"As for pop artists appearing on so many top-ranked songs, I believe that's just a coincidence," Chiang continues. "Let's be honest, on country radio 'Kill' is really an Eric Church song, 'Meant' and 'God' are both FGL tracks, 'Coming Home' is Keith Urban and 'Take Back Home Girl' is Chris Lane."

WSM-FM Nashville vp programming Charlie Cook and KRTY San Jose, Calif., general manager Nate Deaton both concur.

"In terms of pop artists breaking through, it's very gray, especially with Michaels and Rexha, since they're both appearing with country superstars," says Deaton. "However, in every other format, collaborations are the rule as compared to the exception. I just think that for today's 20- and 30-year-olds, it's the sign of the times and what is current, so I see good collaborations as very positive."

Cook observes that while "country radio programmers were open to new voices this year, women still struggled to break through. The only three female voices new to the top 10 were pop acts as part of superstar male songs. It's not like Bebe, Tori or Julia will reappear on the country charts as solo acts anytime soon."

MOVING "ON" UP On the Hot Country Songs chart, which blends airplay, streaming and sales data, Chris Young banks his 13th top 10, as "Hangin' On" hops 11-9. It pushes 3-2 on Country Airplay, up 7 percent increase to 37.8 million impressions.


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