Luke Bryan, Sugarland and Dan + Shay talk about their nominations for CMAs

Who will emerge the big winner on country music’s biggest night?

Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will co-host the 52nd CMA Awards for the 11th time at 8 p.m. EST Wednesday from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The show — with performances from Kenny Chesney, Dan + Shay, Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks, Pistol Annies, Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, Chris Stapleton with Maren Morris and Mavis Staples, Kelsea Ballerini, Keith Urban and more — will air live on ABC. 

While the show is still days away, these are our predictions on which country singers will take home the trophies. 

Entertainer of the Year

Who should win: Kenny Chensey or Luke Bryan

This should be a race between Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan. Both men sold out stadiums this year and had hits on country radio — Chesney with “Get Along” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and Bryan with “Most People are Good” and “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset.” 

Bryan broadened the genre’s audience through his gig at the judges table on “American Idol,” hands-down turned in the performance of CMA Music Festival, hosted a free street party in downtown Nashville to open his multilevel entertainment complex, Luke’s 32 Bridge, and, even though it wasn’t nominated, he gets extra points for elevating country music this year with his hope-instilling “Most People are Good.”

When Hurricane Irma devastated St. John, Chesney’s sometimes home and the place he relied on to recharge, the singer made it his personal mission to help rebuild the island. He put a team of people on the ground there to support the islanders, flew in food, water and medicine, got instruments for schoolchildren and even took care of the island’s homeless pets. In addition, the proceeds from the sale of his album “Songs for the Saints,” which was inspired by the Virgin Islands, are dedicated to helping St. John and its residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

At the very least, that deserves a trophy.


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Who will win: Chesney or Jason Aldean

Aldean is on a roll with Entertainer of the Year wins at the Academy of Country Music Awards — three consecutive to date. Aldean has had a stellar year on country radio with “You Make it Easy” and “Drowns the Whiskey,” and he wrapped a sold-out 30-plus city arena and amphitheater tour in September.

Single of the Year

Who should win: Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be” has been No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for 49 weeks — a record for country music by 15 weeks. The closest competition, Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad,” topped the same chart for 34 weeks.

Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” catapulted the duo to new career highs in 2018. The nostalgic ballad is the most-streamed country song released in 2018 and is double platinum in the U.S. and Canada.

Who will win: It’s a toss-up.

There’s this thing among voters for awards shows where it seems like they get tired of voting for the same people time and time again and they move on to vote for new artists, regardless of who is breaking records. Judging from the past couple of years, it seems like CMA voters might be (unfairly) fatigued with Florida Georgia Line. The men are still out-selling and out-performing most artists in the country music format, but their trophy haul has been stalled. 

Dan + Shay are country music’s “it” duo, and they’ve earned it. “Tequila” brought them here, and it could very well win them their first CMA Award. Also, look for them to perform the song on the show.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Who should win: Carrie Underwood 

The CMA Awards co-host has made a comeback in more ways than one in 2018. After a dramatic fall sidelined her following the 2017 CMA Awards, Underwood is back, and her vocals are better than ever on new songs “Cry Pretty” and “Love Wins.” She has a new album — also called “Cry Pretty” — to keep the country radio hits flowing for the next couple of years.

Who will win: Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year

Who should win: Luke Combs

Combs is currently on his fourth-consecutive No. 1 single, “She Got the Best of Me,” and it’s been at the top of the charts for the last three weeks. He’s a newcomer to the genre with an effortless voice that feels like it’s been part of the fabric of country music for a decade, not just two years.   

Who will win: Chris Stapleton

Simply put, Stapleton is beloved. His voice is rich, textured and full of emotion. His heart is as big as the genre, and he’s as unassuming as they come. Regardless of the frequency in which he’s played on contemporary country radio, the man’s talent is unforgettable.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Who should win: Florida Georgia Line

If people vote based on charts and numbers, Florida Georgia Line gets the win.

Who will win: Dan + Shay

If growth, creativity and career trajectory determine this win, Dan + Shay are unbeatable. These men are among the hardest-working artists in country music. They co-wrote the bulk of their self-titled new album, member Dan Smyers served as producer, and Shay Mooney has one of the most nimble, impressive voices in country music. They take chances, make time for fans and are the gold standard for building relationships through social media, which translates to a rabid and dedicated fan base. 

New Artist of the Year

Who should win: This should be a race between Brett Young, Combs and Kane Brown — all multiplatinum-selling newcomers in country music. Brown isn’t nominated so the decision is narrowed to Combs and Young. Combs’ hits include his current “She Got the Best of Me,” “Hurricane” and “One Number Away,” while Young boasts “Mercy,” “In Case You Didn’t Know” and “Sleep Without You.”

Who will win: Luke Combs

If people are on the fence about who to vote for in the Male Vocalist of the Year category, they might choose Stapleton there and then vote Combs for New Artist of the Year. In addition, Combs is signed to Sony Music Nashville and is the only artist on the label in this category, which means he doesn’t have to share the label’s votes with another nominee. 

Vocal Group of the Year

Who should win: Old Dominion

Old Dominion has been on a roll since the band’s debut record, “Meat & Candy,” was released in 2015. It’s had five No. 1 hits in three years, including two in the CMA Awards voting period — “Written in the Sand” and “Hotel Key” from its sophomore album, “Happy Endings.” In addition, it won Vocal Group of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in April, which can be a good indication of things to come. 

Who will win: Old Dominion

Album of the Year

Who should win: Dierks Bentley, “The Mountain”

With few exceptions, Bentley releases the most thoughtful, complete collections in country music, and “The Mountain” is among his best. As consistent as his albums is the sad predictability that he will be overlooked by awards show voters. “The Mountain” is a spacious, uncluttered showcase of Bentley’s heart and creativity that reflects the natural beauty of the Colorado mountains where it was written and recorded.

Who will win: Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”

Musgraves swims in critical acclaim and rightfully so with “Golden Hour.” Her crystalline voice sparkles on this artfully produced project that at times feels like an autobiography. 

Song of the Year

Who should win: Chris Janson or Luke Bryan

This should be a nail-biter between Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” and Luke Bryan’s “Most People are Good.” Somehow, in circumstances that defy understanding, “Most People are Good” didn’t receive a nomination, which should clear the path for Janson and his co-writers Scooter Carusoe and Tom Douglas to take home the much-deserved win.

Who will win: Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”

Musical Event of the Year

Who should win: Again, Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be” enjoyed massive crossover success and has been No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for nearly a year. 

Who will win: I don’t think the CMA Awards will end without Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert taking home a trophy for “Drowns the Whiskey.” The chart-topper was Lambert’s first consistent radio airplay in 18 months and further cemented Aldean’s reign as one of country music’s most dependable hitmakers. 

However if you were to read the tea leaves, Dierks Bentley and Brothers Osborne would win the trophy for their “Burning Man.” That trophy is one of two early awards to be announced at Bentley’s bar, Whiskey Row, on Wednesday morning during “Good Morning America.” It seems in poor form to award it at his place and invite him to sing just so he can watch someone else take the proverbial gold.

Music Video of the Year

Who should win: Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift, “Babe”

The video for Sugarland’s “Babe” featuring Taylor Swift is basically a mini-episode of “Mad Men” conceived by Swift and shot on the show’s set. In seemingly the most highly produced video of the bunch, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles convincingly plays the wife scorned while Swift snatches her all-American husband, portrayed by actor Brandon Routh.

This is a tough category this year with fierce competition coming from Chris Janson’s timely and topical “Drunk Girl,” Dan + Shay’s picturesque video for “Tequila” and Thomas Rhett’s heartbreaker “Marry Me.”

Who will win: 
“Babe,” Sugarland featuring Taylor Swift

CMA AWARDS:  For the latest on your favorite country stars, subscribe online today.


Sugarland discusses their newest “Mad Men”-inspired music video featuring Taylor Swift for their song “Babe” backstage at the 2018 CMT Music Awards.
Ayrika L Whitney, The Tennessean

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