MusicRow’s editorial staffers Sarah Skates and Jon Freeman square off in a spirited debate about tonight’s top CMA Award categories. Tune into ABC at 7 PM to see all the action. See all the categories and nominees here.
Entertainer of the Year
JF: Brad Paisley—He is long overdue for an Entertainer of the Year honor, having been nominated and subsequently shut out the previous five years. He’s defied the odds and continued to get better in the meantime–cranking out hit after hit, crafting a series of highly enjoyable albums, building his live experience to fill arenas, and somehow managing to be a genuinely likable guy all the while.
SS: Lady Antebellum—It would be a tough win to beat out touring superstar Brad Paisley, but for the sake of argument, I’m picking Lady A. It might be a little early in the band’s career to win the CMA’s top prize, but the Capitol group has had a stellar few years, with loads of crossover success, and their momentum just keeps going.
Female Vocalist of the Year
JF: Miranda Lambert—Hopefully this will be remembered as the period in history when the country listening world came to understand what the industry has been saying for years: Miranda Lambert is an extraordinary artist. Her album Revolution is scary good, she’s a sensational songwriter, and she’s put out a couple of the best singles in recent memory. None of these things would be possible, however, if she didn’t also have the vocal chops to match. For that she deserves our recognition.
SS: Carrie Underwood—If her show at Bridgestone Arena proved anything, it was that this girl can sing. Her spectacular voice is accentuated by her onstage performance. Since her start on American Idol, Underwood has grown into a touring headliner, top album seller and radio star. She also has a strong history in this category, with three wins already to her credit.
Male Vocalist of the Year
JF: Blake Shelton—Blake has owned this year, from his Grand Ole Opry induction to his endlessly repeatable late night segments with Chelsea Handler to his match-made-in-hillbilly-heaven engagement with Miranda Lambert. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he also had a massive hit detailing a previously unknown but universally shared part of the human anatomy. Who even cares what the hip bone connects to?
SS: Dierks Bentley—He ventured into bluegrass territory for his newest album and the critics ate it up. Bentley followed his artistic muse with great success, and CMA voters will reward that.
Vocal Group of the Year
JF: Zac Brown Band—The Vocal Group category is full of serious contenders, but this one should be a standoff between Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band. Both have the hits and sales, but the edge goes to ZBB because of the salivating live following they have built over years of relentless touring. Need more proof? How about a co-headlining stadium tour with Kenny Chesney?
SS: Lady Antebellum—The success of Need You Now is undeniable. This album spawned monster radio hits in country before crossing into the pop charts. The trio of talented musicians have a unique genre-crossing appeal. It’s a tight race, but Lady A will take home the trophy.
Album of the Year
JF: Lady Antebellum, Need You Now—How many great singles can one album have? The early 2010 release of Need You Now set the tone for the Capitol group’s amazing year. On the wings of its now classic title track, Need You Now elevated Lady Antebellum to a whole new kind of stardom. And it wasn’t a fluke–following a couple more No. 1s, its fourth single “Hello World” is already shaping up to be another smash.
SS: Miranda Lambert, Revolution—Today is her birthday and she’s going into the show as the leading nominee. Lambert offered one of the year’s best albums, earning the elusive combination of critical acclaim and commercial success. As her career steers toward superstar territory, the industry and fans are behind her. She’s going to be a big winner tonight.