It’s hard to say who is going to win female vocalist of the year at the 53rd annual CMA Awards — and when is the last time you could say that?
But this year, it’s a real contest. Lambert and Underwood are both back in the running, as are three other women who have yet to win in this category: Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini and Kacey Musgraves.
You can make a good case for three or four of them winning. (A win by Ballerini would be a shocker.)
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s five nominees.
Morris is probably the front-runner. She’s this year’s leading CMA nominee with six noms, including album, single and song of the year. This is her fourth consecutive nom for female vocalist of the year.
Musgraves is also a strong contender. She won four Grammys in February, including album of the year. She won female artist of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in April. That marked the first time that someone other than Lambert or Underwood won in that category at the ACMs since Sara Evans took the prize in 2005. This is Musgraves’ sixth CMA nom for female vocalist of the year in the past seven years. (She was displaced in the 2017 noms by Reba McEntire.)
Underwood is the defending champion in this category. She’s won female vocalist of the year five times, including twice in the last three years. She is also the only woman nominated for entertainer of the year this year. This is Underwood’s 14th consecutive nom for female vocalist of the year.
Lambert, who has won female vocalist of the year a record seven times, can never be counted out. But this is her only nom this year. A win would be a surprise. This is her 13th consecutive nom for female vocalist of the year.
This is Ballerini’s fifth consecutive nom for female vocalist of the year. She may very well win this award one day, but this probably isn’t her year.
This is the 20th time that Lambert and Underwood have competed at the CMAs. These two singers are in some ways country music’s answer to tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, whose rivalry is one of the most celebrated in all of sports.
Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But the competition between these two singers at the CMAs has been epic.
Their rivalry dates back to 2006, when Underwood beat Lambert for the horizon award. Underwood beat Lambert again in 2007 and 2008 for female vocalist of the year, but starting in 2010, the momentum shifted to Lambert. Her Revolution beat Underwood’s Play On for album of the year that year. Also, Lambert beat Underwood for female vocalist of the year every year from 2010-15.
In 2014, Lambert and Underwood teamed up for the collaboration “Somethin’ Bad,” which was nominated for musical event of the year. But even here Lambert managed to beat her friend and rival. The winner in that category was another Lambert collabo, “We Were Us,” with Keith Urban.
Underwood came back to beat Lambert for female vocalist of the year in 2016 and again in 2018. Lambert interrupted Underwood’s streak by taking the award in 2017.
So far, in these head-to-head match-ups, Lambert has won nine times, compared to five times for Underwood. Five other times, another contender won. We won’t know who will prevail in their 20th match-up until Nov. 13, when the 53rd annual CMA Awards are presented at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.