Female Vocalist of the Year
It's a surprise, albeit a welcome one, to see four-time winner Reba McEntire in this category again following the chart-topping success of her Gospel set Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope. More than any other year, however, this looks like a one-woman show, as Underwood is between albums, Maren Morris is still rising, and Kelsea Ballerini -- who just might be the one to unseat Lambert in the next couple years -- is set to release just her second album this November. Lambert's the favorite to again extend the record of wins in this category, but it's good to see one of the format's all-time best back on this list.
Album of the Year
For the first time in recent memory, the CMA has nominated three albums in the category that didn't register a top 10 hit on the Country Airplay chart. Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton failed to tally a ranking that high on the list, as did the artist who will likely walk away with this one -- Lambert -- whose “Vice” stopped just outside of the top 10 at No. 11.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list is that five-time Male Vocalist of the Year Blake Shelton is not included in a single category. His records continue to dominate the airplay charts, but not seeing his name here is a little bit of a surprise. Also, Jason Aldean not receiving a single nod just a few months after being named Entertainer by the ACM is also a shocker.
And a few items from this list that threw nobody for a loop. In fact, you could have bet the proverbial farm on these events happening months ago.
Single of the Year
The only nomination that stood as a surprise was Jon Pardi. Seriously, Urban released what could very well be the most powerful song of his career with “Blue,” while Lambert's “Tin Man” -- chart-struggles aside -- was a once-in-a-lifetime performance, Little Big Town dominated the early part of the year with the Swift-penned ballad, and since then, Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road" has ruled as the longest-leading No. 1 in the history of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart: 29 weeks through the chart dated Sept. 9.
Song of the Year
“Better Man” is a great song and Taylor Swift is a great artist. There's no doubting that. But when this record was released last February, you kind of got the feeling that the song would be included in this category -- just to have Swift's name as a part of the awards show. That's not a knock. She's just one of those type performers who merits attention for everything she performs -- or writes, and deservedly so.
Musical Event of the Year
One can never tell what is going to be included in this category as it often seems like a hodgepodge of singles and album tracks, but I am glad to see that Eric Church's fabulous collaboration with the incredible Rhiannon Giddens wasn't forgotten by CMA voters here.
New Artist of the Year
One of the best stories of 2017 in the world of Country Music has been watching the steady path of Lauren Alaina, which included a number one hit this year with “Road Less Traveled” and a nomination here. Though due to his two other nods, Pardi might be the favorite, the year could get even better for the Georgia native.