CMA Flashback: Horizon Award (New Artist)

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.


  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Neimann
  • Chris Young
  • Zac Brown Band

Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible.  This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination.  With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race.

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band

Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.


  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Lady Antebellum
  • James Otto
  • Kellie Pickler

The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.


  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Little Big Town
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star.  While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.


  • Miranda Lambert
  • Little Big Town
  • Sugarland
  • Josh Turner
  • Carrie Underwood

I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.


  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Julie Roberts
  • Sugarland

Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well. I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself. The CMA showed good judgment this year.


  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Julie Roberts
  • Josh Turner
  • Gretchen Wilson

Wilson fever was rampant, and she won this in a walk. Her career has cooled tremendously since then, but the future seemed white hot in 2004.  In retrospect, it is Josh Turner who has been the most dependably successful artist from this strong batch of artists.


  • Gary Allan
  • Buddy Jewell
  • Joe Nichols
  • Blake Shelton
  • Darryl Worley

Few things in CMA history annoy me more than the lack of recognition for Gary Allan. They finally nominated him for something in 2003, after he’d already been around for years, and passed him over for the mega-hyped Joe Nichols, who has hardly lived up to expectations.


  • Caroyln Dawn Johnson
  • Nickel Creek
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Phil Vassar
  • Darryl Worley

The hair-gel boys won over a brilliant progressive bluegrass band and three talented singer-songwriters. There’s no denying they’ve had the most success by far ever since, but it’s hard not to grimace at it.


  • Jessica Andrews
  • Nickel Creek
  • Jamie O’Neal
  • Keith Urban
  • Phil Vassar

Urban’s first album hardly impressed me, but the CMA made a good call, since he’s gone on to become one of the genre’s strongest talents, artistically and commercially.


  • Sara Evans
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Brad Paisley
  • SHeDaisy
  • Chely Wright

I don’t care how many awards he wins, Brad Paisley will always be “Bob Saget in a Cowboy Hat” to me. All joking aside, he’s certainly lived up to the expectations this award represented.  He’s dominated at radio for the entire decade.


  • Kenny Chesney
  • Sara Evans
  • Jo Dee Messina
  • The Wilkinsons
  • Chely Wright

Messina was on fire back in the late nineties, so she was expected to win. I think that Evans has made more interesting music since then, and Chesney has, of course, become a superstar. Amazingly enough, he’d already been around for five years when he was finally nominated.


  • Trace Adkins
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Jo Dee Messina
  • Michael Peterson
  • Lee Ann Womack

Well, obviously. The entire catalogs of the other four artists combined haven’t sold as much as Wide Open Spaces. It’s interesting that no new act since the Chicks have been able to sell 8 million or more of an album. I had to chuckle reading this list, since it reminded me of the “Michael Peterson is the next Garth Brooks!” hype that Warner Bros. pushed so hard back then.


  • Trace Adkins
  • Deana Carter
  • Terri Clark
  • LeAnn Rimes
  • Lee Ann Womack

All but Carter have continued to have great success. I think I was rooting for Terri Clark that year.   Lee Ann Womack has since demonstrated herself to be the biggest artistic force of the bunch.


  • Terri Clark
  • Wade Hayes
  • LeAnn Rimes
  • Shania Twain
  • Bryan White

The three ladies are still around, and I must say I miss Wade Hayes and Bryan White. I think they had too much early success at too young of an age. White wrote the killer “Sometimes I Feel Like Elvis” on the last Wynonna album, so his pen is still potent at least.


  • David Ball
  • John Berry
  • Faith Hill
  • Alison Krauss
  • Shania Twain

You can tell we’re in the mid-nineties by all the fantastic, distinctive female vocalists that are popping up in this category; look how fast the men they were nominated with disappeared.


  • Faith Hill
  • Martina McBride
  • Tim McGraw
  • John Michael Montgomery
  • Lee Roy Parnell

Those of us who can’t fathom how Rascal Flatts can be selling millions of records can take comfort in the tale of John Michael Montgomery. Pretty boys don’t stay on top forever, even if they beat out four great artists while they reign.


  • Mark Chesnutt
  • Sammy Kershaw
  • Tracy Lawrence
  • John Michael Montgomery
  • Trisha Yearwood

Mark Chesnutt has made some damn good albums, especially since leaving the major labels. What a great talent.


  • Suzy Bogguss
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Billy Dean
  • Pam Tillis
  • Trisha Yearwood

One of the most shocking wins in CMA history, as Trisha Yearwood was heavily favored to win. But “Someday Soon”, “Outbound Plane” and “Aces” were the singles that earned Bogguss the award, and they were pretty darn great. She’s still making great music today. How impressive that not one of these five nominees has been lost as a presence in country music, even if most of them are doing it the indie way.


  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Mark Chesnutt
  • Doug Stone
  • Pam Tillis
  • Travis Tritt

I love me some Pam Tillis, but Tritt won this one easily. He seemed poised for superstardom back then. Heck, so did the rest of them. The amazing thing is, a good half-dozen others could’ve been nominated the same year and that statement would still be true. It was such a golden age for young talent.


  • Garth Brooks
  • Alan Jackson
  • Kentucky Headhunters
  • Lorrie Morgan
  • Travis Tritt

Hard to believe that Brooks and Jackson were once just a part of a big crop of new young stars. Both would go on to become a couple of the biggest CMA winners of all-time.


  • Clint Black
  • Desert Rose Band
  • Patty Loveless
  • Shenandoah
  • Keith Whitley

Whitley was already dead when he was nominated for this award, which is a bit strange. Clint Black was riding a brilliant debut album and won easily, though I’d say that Loveless has ultimately proven to be the better talent.


  • Highway 101
  • Patty Loveless
  • K.T. Oslin
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • Sweethearts of the Rodeo

I was about to call Ricky Van Shelton the John Michael Montgomery of the late eighties, but that’s really unfair. Shelton is a remarkably gifted singer. This is a wonderful list, with all five acts worthy of the award.


  • T. Graham Brown
  • Holly Dunn
  • The O’Kanes
  • Restless Heart
  • Sweethearts of the Rodeo

Dunn’s “Daddy Hands” made her the sentimental favorite, I suppose. Her voice has always annoyed me a bit. She would be washed away in the early nineties wave of female talent, but still managed to score some impressive hits before then.


  • The Forester Sisters
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Dan Seals
  • Randy Travis
  • Dwight Yoakam

Mattea, Travis and Yoakam are still making great music, twenty years later. It irks me that Yoakam hasn’t won any CMA awards, but then again, neither did Buck Owens, his musical hero.


  • Ray Charles
  • Mel McDaniel
  • Eddy Raven
  • Sawyer Brown
  • John Schneider

Well, this lineup hasn’t aged well, has it? Put aside Charles, a legend who’d made classic country albums two decades earlier, and you have the last, dying remains of the Urban Cowboy era. The CMA gave it to Sawyer Brown, who was making terrible music in the wake of their Star Search victory, but time has been kind to that decision – they ended up one of the best country bands of the nineties, writing deep and meaningful songs that validated their early recognition.


  • Deborah Allen
  • Earl Thomas Conley
  • Vern Gosdin
  • The Judds
  • Michael Martin Murphey

“Slap the dog and spit in the fire!” That’s what Naomi Judd said through tears as she and her prodigal daughter, Wynonna, accepted the Horizon Award in homemade dresses. The spectacle begins.


  • John Anderson
  • Vern Gosdin
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • The Whites

Four of the best vocalists in the genre’s history, and they’re all nominated in the same year. Anderson was a good choice, and understandable, since McEntire hadn’t started singing in her pure country twang that would win her four vocalist awards, and Strait’s talents are subtle. The Whites were pretty darn good, too. One of the best lineups this category has ever seen.


  • John Anderson
  • Rosanne Cash
  • David Frizzell
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Ricky Skaggs

I would’ve gone with Anderson or Cash, but Skaggs certainly has shown endurance over the years.  He won Male Vocalist the very same night, making him the first artist in history to win both the Horizon Award and their vocalist race.   In the years since, this has only been done by Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood.


  • Rosanne Cash
  • David Frizzell
  • Terri Gibbs
  • T.G. Sheppard
  • Shelly West
  • Boxcar Willie

A rather weak start for the category, don’t you think? How Rosanne Cash lost against this group, especially to the one-hit wonder Terri Gibbs, is a mystery to me.


  1. Man, I miss Ricky Van Shelton – seeing his name listed reminded me I need to dig out some of his old CDs…

  2. I am happy for Carrie to win both awards that year, but at the same time it is sad that she could really only enjoy the Horizon for a short period, cause of course the FVOTY is the big one. I do for sure hope that Jason Aldean wins this on he really deserves it.

  3. Looking at this year’s nominees, I’m thinking the CMA will give the award to Rodney Atkins. But personally, I think this should be Lady A’s hands down. They have a huge fanbase and their cd has sold very well and I think they’ll be one of country’s biggest acts in the coming years.

    I just want to say that I love these flashbacks! It’s really interesting to see who was nominated and who won in the years prior to when I was born! Great job!

  4. This year’s crop of nominees is, top-to-bottom, the least impressive since at least 2002. Lady Antebellum probably has the best music to their credit, but it’s still hard not to hear them as diminished returns on Little Big Town. I’d be tempted to vote for Pickler because, even though her material is frequently awful, I can at least tell it’s her when I hear one of her songs.

    As for who actually will win, it’s hard to say, since Lady Antebellum is the only act that managed another nomination (in a category with precious little competition) this year, but groups very rarely win here. So, Atkins? All of those #1 singles have to count for something, right?

    Last year’s line-up was fairly lackluster, as well, but I do think that the CMAs have been nominating some legitimately great acts this decade, even if they don’t necessarily manage to win the award.

  5. Honestly I WANT Kellie Pickler to win, however I think Rodney Atkins and Jason Aldean have the biggest chance.

  6. I wonder if Akins and Aldean will cancel each other out and lead to Pickler taking this one. As Johnathan said: Pickler is definately the most distinctive of this group of nominees, even if her personality carries her more heavily than does her material/vocal chops.

    Honestly, Otto would be the only winner that would be surprising to me. I’m surprised we didn’t get Ashton Shepard, Jewel, or Heidi Newfield in that fifth slot, rather than Otto.

  7. I totally agree with your comment “Few things in CMA history annoy me more than the lack of recognition for Gary Allan.” I like the other artists who were nominated as well, but Gary’s talent should have earned him several awards by now. It’s a shame the CMA doesn’t seem to know he exists.

  8. Jason Aldean became one of my favorite artists of all time when he first came out, due to his first three singles, especially Amarillo Sky. I can’t say I love his recent CD nearly as much, but I still loved Johnny Cash and liked Relentless.

    However, Rodney Atkins’ string of four #1s makes him deserving of the award (and I really think he is getting quite a lack of recognition for that), and Lady A. has done well recently too.

    Still, I hope the award goes to Jason Aldean.

  9. Actually there are many current artists underappreciated by the CMA: Gary Allan, Justin Trevino, Dale Watson, Gene Watson, Amber Digby, Jim Lauderdale

  10. Does anyone else feel that if your name wasnt Reba or George back in the 90’s and early 2000’s you werent getting the support you deserved from MCA Records? Trisha Yearwood has only won 2 solo CMA Awards and same goes for Josh Turner and Gary Allan?? Whats the deal?

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Shopping… | PureCountryMusic.Com Blog

Comments are closed.