2018 ACM Nominations: Chris Stapleton Leads the Pack, But There's a Few Surprises

Chris Stapleton continues to reap the industry benefits for his creative labors, as the singer-songwriter leads the pack with eight nominations for the 53rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards – announced Thursday morning (March 1) on CBS This Morning.    

The singer keeps dazzling critics and fans alike, and his music is making a well-deserved dent at country radio, with “Broken Halos” – a nominee for Single of the Year – currently sitting at No. 3 on the Country Airplay chart; that's his highest rank there yet. There seems to be no end to his award-show dominance, as the singer pulled off a rarity – a nomination in the Song of the Year category for “Whiskey and You,” a track from 2015’s Traveller that was never worked to radio as a single – though it did peak at No. 35 on the Country Songs chart. Observers will notice that the song is one of only four nominees for the prize – and the only song on the ballot to hit the top 10 was “Body Like A Backroad” from Sam Hunt. (Keith Urban’s “Female” has peaked at No. 11 on Country Songs so far, while Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” hit No. 15.) For whatever reason, the category does look a little strange – with one giant hit record, two singles that missed top 10, and a track which wasn’t a single at all.    

The Entertainer of the Year category looks very similar to last year – an all-male club including reigning winner Jason Aldean, and previous winners Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan. Ironically, the only nominee not to win the top prize is Stapleton – who has yet to claim the award from either the CMA or the ACM.   

The Male and Female Vocalist categories also haven’t changed too much from 2017, save McEntire’s return to the Top Five following the success of her Sing It Now collection. Don’t look for any major surprises come award time, either. Thomas Rhett has too strong of a year to be dethroned as Male Vocalist (though a dark horse could be new Grand Ole Opry inductee Chris Young – who appears in the category for a second straight year), and though Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris continue to grow their careers, Lambert will likely claim the Female trophy for a record-setting ninth consecutive year. One win from the singer out of her four nods will give her a record-shattering 30th ACM trophy – as she currently is tied for the lead with Brooks & Dunn at 29.

The Vocal Duo and Vocal Group categories do hold a little more interest this year than usual. In the former, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are included in the same categories with duos such as Florida Georgia Line and Brothers Osborne. The couple released The Rest of Our Life, their first all-duets album in November. Their star power might not be enough to topple Brothers Osborne, who have garnered as much critical acclaim as airplay as of late, always a telling sign for a win. The Group field looks to be a competitive lot, but will the one-two Sony punch of LANCO and Old Dominion combined with the Universal tandem of Little Big Town and a rejuvenated Lady Antebellum possibly open the door for Midland in their first year? Ahhh…the speculation!

The New Artist categories are proof of the great year that newcomers have had in the format over the past twelve months. Each of the Male nominees have placed records in the Top Five on the Country Airplay list, while Lauren Alaina and Carly Pearce have topped the chart. In the Duo and Group field, look for LANCO and Midland to duke it out, with the latter having a stellar year with both critics and the public alike. The lone surprise here comes with the New Female category only including four contenders – Lindsay Ell’s The Project fared well with critics upon its release last year, and her “Criminal” single has found a spark at radio – but likely not soon enough to help her chances this year.

The Album and Single categories each contained one relative surprise – Old Dominion in the former for Happy Endings and Blake Shelton in the latter for “I’ll Name The Dogs.” After being shut out of the nomination process in 2017, The Voice coach is back in the running. Still, it’s going to be hard to deny Stapleton a win for Album – but Single could be anyone’s guess with Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad” figuring into the mix.

Though the bulk of the nominees represent today’s sounds on the radio, one listing does stand out in the Vocal Event category – Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson’s collaboration on “Funny (How Time Slips Away)” from Campbell’s final set, Adios. Should the recording pull off the win, it would mark the first win for the late singer since “Rhinestone Cowboy” netted Single and Song honors in 1975.  

Sixteen-time ACM Award winner Reba McEntire will return to host the awards show from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 15, at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.