Charlie Cook On Air: The Class of 2013

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Charlie Cook

High schools and colleges are all in the midst of graduating their seniors. I read last weekend that high school seniors are so accomplished and work so hard today that they are more than ready for the late nights and drinking they will experience in college. The class of 2013 is prepared. I am thrilled that high school is finally getting students ready for their next adventure.

Well, all this talk about late nights and drinking got me thinking about country music and the class of 2013. I put a great deal of thought into the group of artists that are ready to graduate to the next level. I know I am going to leave some deserving acts out and it is tough to gauge where performers are today in their status level.

Is Chris Young, with six No. 1 songs, on superstar level yet? Many people think he should be but it is a zero sum game and if we agree the top 10 acts are the top 10 acts then everyone else is still looking up. I believe Chris has one of the best voices in the business but we would all agree he isn’t Kenny Chesney yet. I remember when Kenny Chesney wasn’t Kenny Chesney so Chris is one of my class of 2013. I saw his headlining show at the Ryman late last year and he has come a long way since he played for us in Los Angeles a few years ago. Even then he had a confidence that comes with being a great picker and singer.

I saw Lee Brice the other night on the Brad Paisley show in Pittsburgh. Lee is knocking so hard on the superstar door his knuckles are leaving dents. He totally commands the stage. He has an Eric Church quality. You do not take your eyes off Lee on stage. Florida Georgia Line nearly leads the class of 2013. They came out of nowhere in the last 18 months and have dominated radio play, and not only country radio airplay. “Cruise” refuses to slow down with more spins on Top 40 than on Country.

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Hunter Hayes

I am looking for newish acts that have made considerable strides this year. Not necessarily rookies but someone who has said, “Yo, look over here.” Like Kip Moore. His work on the road was first noticed by the college kids and now he is becoming a staple on the radio. I think Brantley Gilbert is on the list. Each one of his songs gets radio attention. As long as he doesn’t stray too far from radio friendly songs (anyone remember “Kickin’ It in the Sticks”?), he will continue to be an act we look back on and say he really came into his own in 2013. Hunter Hayes is probably the Valedictorian. He is a superstar in waiting who, like FGL, has made his early mark on Top 40 and AC radio too.

I personally love Gloriana, but it is like they were held back a year. I don’t know what is holding them back. They are great both on record and in person and there are not three more likable kids out there. Maybe they need to get on a big ole tour and kick some warm-up butts. When they won the AMA award a few years ago, I thought, bingo! But their numbers have not come up consistently. A little the same with Easton Corbin. It seems like he has to fight harder than he should for radio space. This is a talented kid who sings the heck out of his records. I think he will graduate this year though.

I know I have left your favorite off the list. If so, let me know. First, though, ask yourself, are they guaranteed radio players (the name of the column is On Air, remember)? If they are really on the cusp of breaking out this year or continuing to move up the list, I will correct it next week with mea culpas.

If you’re in Nashville this weekend for the CMA fest, look for me to say hello and tell me in person who you think I slighted.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow.)

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