MusicRow editorial staffers Sarah Skates and Jon Freeman pick the winners in select categories for tomorrow night’s (11/9) 45th Annual CMA Awards, airing at 7 pm CT on ABC.
Entertainer of the Year
Skates: Brad Paisley’s reign isn’t over. His H2O II tour was a tidal wave of success and merriment. Combine that with a hit album, numerous charttoppers, and his team at Sony, and that turtle is sitting tight on his fence post for another year.
Freeman: Kenny Chesney. Oh, wait, he’s not nominated in this category? In that case, I’ll put my money on the globe-hopping, arena-and-stadium filling mega celebrity who wrote all 14 tracks on her album Speak Now that’s sold approximately a gazillion copies to date. Taylor Swift is not even old enough to rent a car, y’all, and she’s making the rest of us look like lazy slobs. Now that’s entertainment.
Male Vocalist of the Year
Skates: The industry is in an uproar about Kenny Chesney’s omission from the Entertainer list. They will put their votes behind the superstar here instead.
Freeman: It’s hard to oust an incumbent, especially one like Blake Shelton who has only become more famous since he won this award last year. But don’t rule out Jason Aldean, either. The industry is currently having a major love-fest with him, and his double platinum My Kinda Party is at least part of the reason some of us still have jobs.
Female Vocalist of the Year
Skates: Taylor Swift‘s astronomical sales alone make her a shoe-in. She’s an A+ songwriter and entertainer. It’s hard to find a female star that outranks Swift.
Freeman: It would be criminal for an artist as talented as Miranda Lambert to go home from the CMA Awards empty handed, and besides, she’s had a great year. “Heart Like Mine” hit No. 1, plus she released two acclaimed albums, Hell on Heels (with her group The Pistol Annies), and the sparkling new Four The Record.
New Artist of the Year
Skates: There’s tough competition in this category, but this award should go to a true newbie. That said, The Band Perry’s breakout success is undeniable.
Freeman: It’s a tough category. All the nominees have had legitimately successful years. But with four straight No. 1 singles, Chris Young has laid quite a foundation for himself.
Vocal Group of the Year
Skates: Zac Brown Band is a hitmaking, touring force to be reckoned with. Plus, Brown’s an entrepreneur with a hand in everything from sauces to music festivals.
Freeman: Remember that group that cleaned up at the Grammys earlier this year? The one on Capitol Records with the funny name? They’re nominated in this category.
Album of the Year (Award to Artist and Producer(s))
Skates: Speak Now, Taylor Swift, Produced by Swift and Nathan Chapman, Big Machine Records. —Genre-melding work of the highest caliber, pushing pop and country to new heights. Plus, Swift wrote the entire project by herself.
Freeman: Yeah, what she said.
Vocal Duo of the Year
Skates: Sugarland shines as the biggest star in this category. The dynamic Georgia duo is taking home the trophy.
Freeman: They’re first-time nominees this year, but Thompson Square is one of 2011’s big success stories. First they had a bonafide smash hit with “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” and now they’ve got a repeat in the works with “I Got You.” Plus, the Charlie Sheen campaign video was totes hilarious.
Single of the Year (Award goes to Artist and Producer(s))
Skates: “If I Die Young” The Band Perry, Produced by Paul Worley, Republic Nashville. This single keeps going and going, even rising to the pinnacle of the AC chart last week, a year after it hit No. 1 on the country chart. To date, the paid downloads exceed three million.
Freeman: 2011 might be remembered in history as “The Year Perry” thanks to “If I Die Young.” And just a hunch, but I’m betting we’ll be hearing it inappropriate places like airplanes and elevators for all eternity.
Song of the Year
Skates: “You and Tequila,” Matraca Berg and Deana Carter— Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter offered an elegant reading of a top-quality song, spurring a stand-out radio hit. Plus, UMPG’s campaign alone is enough to ensure a win for this tune.
Freeman: Most of us have at some point had a bad “habit” we couldn’t kick, even if it threatened to destroy us completely. “You and Tequila” so perfectly captures the despair of being in a toxic entanglement that it’s almost painful. That’s what the truth feels like, kids.