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CMA PREDICTIONS

Insiders Pick the Likely Winners in a Star-Studded Field

Nashville’s handing out its annual CMA Awards, and it could be a watershed. With the Country Music Association working hard to stress the new nominees, several insiders we polled believe the biggest beneficiaries will be Little Big Town, who are favored to take the Vocal Group as well as Song and Single of the Year trophies—the latter two for the monster "Girl Crush."

Could LBT take Album? Possibly, observers say. Especially if Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton, who performs in what is now known as a “Grammy moment” with Justin Timberlake, split the credibility vote. Yes, Kenny Chesney popped four straight #1s off his Big Revival and Jason Aldean has one nod for Old Boots, New Dirt.

There are horse races, though. Can Miranda Lambert pick up her sixth consecutive Female Vocalist? Will hostess Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller momentum help return to the trophy to her? Did Musgraves' two-night SRO star-turn at The Ryman Auditorium give her the edge? Newcomer Kelsea Ballerini would be a total upset, while seven-time CMA winner Lee Ann Womack would be a nod to traditionalism.

The Male Vocalist category isn’t quite as tight a race. But arguments can be made for all nominees, with Eric Church’s rebel take and Luke Bryan’s momentum giving them a slight edge over Stapleton, Voice cornerstone Blake Shelton and perennial nominee Dierks Bentley.

Since Bryan is favored to snag his second Entertainer of the Year trophy, and if Male Vocalist goes to Church, the night’s biggest prize may already be in the bag. Yes, people were fired up to see the return of Garth Brooks, and sure, people would love to see a woman like Lambert have a shot. But the real contender, say insiders, if Bryan doesn’t double—and barring an upset—is Chesney.

The only other possible big upset: Maddie & Tae upending Florida Georgia Line. Certainly the fresh-faced 20-year olds have made an impact (part of Bentley’s Sounds of Summer Tour, named the Nashville Scene Country Critics’ Poll’s Single of the Year), but how much?

Sam Hunt seems to be a foregone conclusion to take Best New Artist, our informal panel suggests, with his color-outside-the-lines approach to the way business in 6-1-5 is done. Having written massive hits for others (Keith Urban, Chesney, Billy Currington), #1s “House Party,” “Leave The Night On” and giving away his music in the beginning.

As varied and impactful as Ballerini, Stapleton, Maddie & Tae and Thomas Rhett have been, Hunt is a no-content nominee.

Musical event should go to Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard for Django + Jimmie, but perhaps the LBT/Miranda momentum will land the awards in their hands for Lambert’s post-divorce single “Smokin’ & Drinkin’.”

Video is an all-girl field at the genre sausage-fest affair, and every candidate deserves the trophy. Could Maddie & Tae’s gender-flipping “Girl In A Country Song” harvest those 27m+ video views? Or is it going to be Lambert’s “Red Wagon”? Little Big Town’s “Crush”? Underwood’s big-budget “Something in the Water”? Musgrave's “Biscuits”? Every single one’s a winner.

A LBT or Lambert sweep would signal a huge moment for distaff artists in Music City. A Musgraves, Church or Stapleton run would be a victory for critical favorites over momentum-chasers at radio. And a big night for Bryan means it’s another year of good fun, tight jeans and the big party that’s been defining the genre for the last few years.

No matter what, it'll be a further example of Nashville's massive growth into the mainstream.

           

 

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