This feels like a change election. A lot of incumbents seem vulnerable. We could see a lot of first-time winners.
Have I been spending too much time over at Politico.com? No. Actually, I’m talking about this year’s CMA Awards, which will be presented at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Nov. 13.
We may see first-time winners in as many as five of the six categories that aren’t tied to a specific work. (That tally doesn’t include new artist of the year, which always goes to a first-time winner.)
Carrie Underwood, Eric Church or Chris Stapleton could take entertainer of the year for the first time. Keith Urban, who won last year (and in 2005), and Garth Brooks, who has won a record six times, are also nominated.
Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves or Kelsea Ballerini could take female vocalist of the year for the first time. Underwood, who won last year (and four other times), and Miranda Lambert, who has won a record seven times, are also nominated.
Thomas Rhett, Luke Combs or Dierks Bentley could take male vocalist of the year for the first time. Stapleton, who has won the past four years running, and Urban, who has won three times, are also nominated.
Dan + Shay or, in what would be a huge upset, Maddie & Tae, could take vocal duo of the year for the first time. Brothers Osborne, who have won the last three years in a row, are also nominated, as are Brooks & Dunn, who have won a record 14 times, and Florida Georgia Line, which has won three times.
Mac McAnally, who won musician of the year last year for the 10th time, extending his record, is obviously well-liked in this category. But fiddle player Jenee Fleenor received a lot of attention for being the first female musician ever nominated in this category. In a year in which the CMA is putting a bright spotlight on women in country music, she would be a fitting winner here. All the other nominees for musician of the year are vying for their first win: steel guitarist Paul Franklin, guitarist Derek Wells and banjo/guitarist Ilya Toshinksy.
The only incumbents who seem safe in their bid for re-election are Old Dominion, who won for the first time last year as vocal group of the year. Groups vying for their first win as vocal group of the year are Midland and Zac Brown Band. The other nominees are Little Big Town, which has won six times, and Lady Antebellum, which has won three times.
This could be the biggest year of change at the CMAs since 2001, when there were first-time winners in five of these six categories. The first-time winners were Tim McGraw for entertainer of the year, Toby Keith for male vocalist of the year, Lee Ann Womack for female vocalist of the year, Lonestar for vocal group of the year and Dann Huff for musician of the year. The only repeat winners in these categories were Brooks & Dunn as vocal duo of the year. They reclaimed the award that they had won eight years running before losing the year before to Montgomery Gentry.
Check back next week when we have formal predictions for you in top categories. Annie Reuter, Billboard‘s country correspondent, and Melinda Newman, executive editor, West Coast/Nashville, will join me in previewing some key races.