By Mesfin Fekadu and Kristin M. Hall / Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The 2017 Country Music Association Awards take place Wednesday, and we at The Associated Press are placing bets on who will have a great night, and who won’t.
Miranda Lambert is the top contender with five nominations, while Little Big Town and Keith Urban earned four each.
The show, hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, airs live on ABC at 8 p.m. EST from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Luke Bryan; Eric Church; Chris Stapleton; Keith Urban; Garth Brooks.
FEKADU: We all know Lambert deserves this award —— her “The Weight of These Wings” album was one of the best country records in some time, and it’s a shame and a disappointment that her name isn’t listed here alongside her male peers. Though Brooks won last year, I think that Bryan will regain the award he won in 2014 and 2015.
HALL: Brooks has made his case for a second straight win with his massive touring numbers. He’s wrapping up his three-year tour this year after playing for millions of fans and doing multiple shows on each stop. Brooks has always intended to win this one again.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: “From a Room: Volume 1,” Chris Stapleton; “Heart Break,” Lady Antebellum; “The Nashville Sound,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; “The Weight of These Wings,” Miranda Lambert; “The Breaker,” Little Big Town.
HALL: This category is always my favorite because of the quality of the nominated records. This year is a great example of the breadth of today’s country music, from Isbell’s top-notch writing on weighty and important topics to Stapleton’s outstanding song selections and vocal recordings. But Lambert’s double album is ambitious, emotional and excellent, and she should walk away a winner.
FEKADU: I, too, am happy to see Isbell’s talent recognized here — he is wonderful! However, Lambert’s striking and personal album showcased her growth as a singer, songwriter and country music star. It will likely be nominated for album of the year at the upcoming Grammy Awards, and it will definitely win here.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR: “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban; “Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt; “”Dirt On My Boots,” Jon Pardi; “Tin Man,” Miranda Lambert; “Better Man,” Little Big Town.
FEKADU: Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” was one of the year’s biggest hits, regardless of genre, and it set a record on Billboard’s hot country songs chart with a whopping 34 weeks on top of that. There is simply no competition.
HALL: Let’s just pretend for argument’s sake that this might come down to the quality of the song and not just popularity. “Better Man” is a classic Taylor Swift pop country song, cause, well, she wrote it and Little Big Town’s pitch-perfect harmonies made this one a hit. And “Blue Ain’t Your Color” is a wonderful twist as a romantic ballad and Urban nails the melody and vocals. Urban deserves this award.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Eric Church; Thomas Rhett; Chris Stapleton; Keith Urban; Dierks Bentley.
HALL: Stapleton has an ability to transform any song, even classic cover songs recorded by Willie Nelson and George Jones, with a breathtaking delivery that can silence a room or send fans to their feet. He’ll likely win this one for a third time in a row.
FEKADU: Stapleton has such a strong chance, but methinks Urban, who has consistently released successful albums, hit singles and impressed with his live shows, will walk away with the prize.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Miranda Lambert; Reba McEntire; Maren Morris; Carrie Underwood; Kelsea Ballerini.
FEKADU: Lambert all the way!
HALL: The CMA voters love Lambert and they love giving her this award in particular. She is very deserving, but the new women of country music have been working extremely hard, often against all odds. Morris and Ballerini both had Grammy nominations for new artist of the year, impressive debut albums and have shown there’s a lot more room for female voices in country music. I would love if Ballerini or Morris came up as a surprise winner.