In the last twelve months, Eric Church has skyrocketed from first time CMA Award nominee to leading nominee competing for five categories at the Nov. 1 ceremony.
In 2011 he was in the running for New Artist of the Year, but the trophy went home with The Band Perry. Since then, Church has grown into an arena headliner, chart-topping radio act and serious sales force. His success has been propelled significantly by hit singles “Drink In My Hand” and “Springsteen,” which secured nominations today for Single, Song (co-written with Ryan Tyndell and Jeff Hyde) and Video of the Year (directed by Peter Zavadil). But without a solid foundation built by hard touring, meticulous songwriting, and an established fanbase, a few radio hits wouldn’t have justified today’s debut in the Male Vocalist category.
That fanbase showed up in August 2011 to purchase 145K copies of latest project Chief, even without a top 10 single, making it one of the best selling debuts of the year. And when the radio play caught up and attracted new fans, Church had the goods ready to bring them further into the fold with the expertly crafted album. Featuring production magic courtesy of Jay Joyce, it is now in the running for Album of the Year. Given his growing reputation for mad studio skills, maybe we should call him Dr. Jay.
The career of Church’s Capitol labelmate Luke Bryan has taken a steadier trajectory, but yielded the same result with his first Male Vocalist nod.
After a year absent from the race for CMA’s top prize—which many industry observers saw as a faulty omission—Kenny Chesney will vie for Entertainer of the Year against Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift. If Chesney wins Entertainer in 2012, he’ll take the record for the most wins in the category; he is currently tied with Garth Brooks. And P.S., aren’t Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum viable contenders in this race?
Judging by the number of first-time CMA nominees, Country music is producing a bountiful crop. CMA newbies Eli Young Band will compete for Vocal Group of the Year, and Will Hoge and Eric Paslay earned their first noms for co-writing EYB’s hit “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”
The New Artist category includes inaugural CMA nominations for Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes, Lee Brice, and Love & Theft, who will also compete for Vocal Duo.
Proof of country music’s growing inclusivity are debut nods for Snoop Lion (or as we used to know him, Snoop Dogg) and Lionel Richie. And though Kelly Clarkson is not a CMA Awards newcomer (she shares the current Musical Event trophy with Aldean) some fans and members of the industry wondered if the pop singer belongs in today’s slate of Female Vocalist nominees.