If Carrie Underwood is named entertainer of the year at the ACM Awards on Sept. 16—and she very well may be—a contributing reason could be that the voting period was so long ago—March 3-11. The winners were to be announced on April 5, but the show was postponed 5-1/2 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Underwood has kept a fairly low profile this year, working on a Christmas album, My Gift, which is due Sept. 15. Her most recent studio album, Cry Pretty, was released in September 2018. It yielded four big country hits, but the last one, “Drinking Alone,” was released in November 2019.
By contrast, Underwood’s four rivals for entertainer of the year — Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett–have all had No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart this year. Bryan and Combs have each had two. Bryan, who is a two-time winner in this category, topped the chart with “What She Wants Tonight” and “One Margarita.” Combs reached No. 1 with “Even Though I’m Leaving” and “Does to Me,” a collab with fellow nominee Church. Rhett scored with “Beer Can’t Fix,” a collab with Jon Pardi.
No one will complain if Underwood is named entertainer of the year. No woman has won in that category at the ACMs since Taylor Swift took the prize for the second time in 2011. Many expected Underwood to finally win entertainer of the year at the rival Country Music Awards on Nov. 13, but she lost to Garth Brooks, who lassoed the prize for a record-extending seventh time. A win here would help make up for that loss. After all we’ve lived through this year, that loss is a dim and distant memory, but it was likely a fresher recollection for many voters when they were casting their ballots in March.
In the months since ACM voting closed, Combs’ What You See Is What You Get has progressed from being a successful follow-up (it was in its 13th week at No. 1 on Top Country Albums when voting closed) to another phenomenal hit for Combs (it is now in its 26th week at No. 1). Combs is nominated for entertainer, male artist and album of the year. He may very well win one or more of those awards, but it seems safe to say he would have had an even better chance if more of the year had unfolded before the voting closed.
Maren Morris’ “The Bones,” which logged 19 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, wasn’t nominated for single or song of the year. It broke a little too late to have its full impact felt before the nominations were announced on Feb. 27. It reached No. 1 on Country Airplay on Feb. 15. It reached No. 1 on Hot Country Songs on March 14. (Even without single or song nods, Maren is nominated for five awards.)
Other ACM nominees have made headway this year. Gabby Barrett, who is nominated for new female artist of the year, topped Country Airplay in April with “I Hope” and finally topped Hot Country Songs with the song this week. Two of the nominees for new male artist of the year, Jordan Davis and Morgan Wallen, have topped Country Airplay since the voting closed. Davis scored in April with “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot.” Wallen reached the top in May with “Chasin’ You.”
Lady A was still known as Lady Antebellum when the voting concluded. The veteran trio is nominated for group of the year and single of the year for “What If I Never Get Over You.” The dispute with the other Lady A, Seattle-based blues/soul artist Anita White, which became a national news story on June 12, will obviously not factor into the voting.
There are other ways that the nominations may seem a bit dated when the show finally airs—even though the delay was unavoidable.
Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow,” nominated for song of the year, will be nearly 2-1/2 years old by the time the show airs. The ballad was the closing track on Golden Hour, which was released in March 2018.
busbee, nominated for producer of the year, will have been dead for nearly a year when the results are made known. (The versatile producer died on Sept. 29, 2019.)
“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, nominated for music event of the year, will have been an awards show fixture for more than a year. It won song of the year at the VMAs on Aug. 26, 2019, musical event of the year at the CMAs three months later and two Grammys (best pop duo/group performance and best music video) on Jan. 26.
Because of this year’s weird awards calendar, the music event of the year category does not include four collabs that have reached No. 1 on Country Airplay since May: Blake Shelton’s hit duet with Gwen Stefani, “Nobody Like You,” Rhett featuring Pardi’s “Beer Can’t Fix,” Combs featuring Church’s “Does to Me” and Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”
There’s always next year. The Academy of Country Music has already announced that the 56th annual ACM Awards are set for April 18, 2021.