2017 CMA Awards: Picks & Predictions

Here are the personal picks and predicted winners of staff writers Kevin John Coyne and Jonathan Keefe for this year’s CMA Awards, which air live on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 8 ET/7 CT.

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church – KJC, JK
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Will Win

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church – KJC, JK
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

KJC:  None of this year’s nominees had what could be considered a career high kind of year. It’s a shame Miranda Lambert didn’t make the cut, because if she did, I think she’d win.  For me, Eric Church is the nominee who is overdue for this award, and I think voters will feel the same way, giving him a slight edge over three previous winners and Chris Stapleton.

JK: Pretty much everywhere except country radio, Chris Stapleton has emerged as one of the genre’s biggest stars, and I think he has a real look at this year’s top prize: A win would also let the CMAs pat themselves on the back for giving him his star-making moment two years ago. I wouldn’t be stunned were Brooks to repeat, as much as I’m still annoyed that he beat Carrie Underwood for this award last year. But I think the slight edge goes to Eric Church: His emotional Opry performance of “Why Not Me” in honor of the victims of the act of terrorism in Las Vegas occurred just before the voting deadline, and it captured Church at his very best.

Male Vocalist

Should Win:

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Eric Church – KJC
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton – JK
  • Keith Urban

Will Win

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Eric Church
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton – KJC, JK
  • Keith Urban

KJC:  The ACM and CMA don’t agree on this award a lot of the time, and Thomas Rhett’s victory this Spring at the ACMs seemed particularly unearned. I’d love to see either Eric Church or Dierks Bentley finally win, but the CMA love for Chris Stapleton makes me think he’ll win this for a third time.

JK: Rhett’s ACM win was appalling; that this is his only nomination outside of the Video and Event categories suggests that the CMA voters thought so, too. Bentley should have won during his Riser era, but Black is far and away his career-worst work, so I can’t get behind him. I haven’t connected with Urban’s material in years, but kudos to him for staying in the mix so long into his career. That leaves Church, who also should have won during Blake Shelton’s overlong reign, to square off against Stapleton. Based upon the quality of his astonishing vocal performances on “Broken Halos” and “Either Way,” I’d back The Beard Of Truth.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert – JK
  • Reba McEntire – KJC
  • Maren Morris
  • Carrie Underwood

Will Win:

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert – KJC, JK
  • Reba McEntire
  • Maren Morris
  • Carrie Underwood

KJC: Kelsea Ballerini’s talent trailed her hype for so long that I’m pleasantly surprised her latest mediocrity seems to have finally killed the hype. Maren Morris is a threat, I guess, but I don’t see how voters choose her in large enough numbers over Miranda Lambert in a year where Lambert put out a well-received album. My pick, however, is Reba McEntire, who managed to top the charts with a double album of gospel songs.  Sure, she’s one of three women who have four or more awards in this category. But much like Meryl Streep, who was nominated at the Oscars for nearly three decades before she finally won again, McEntire hasn’t won in exactly thirty years, despite most of her best work being released after 1987. She’s long overdue for a fifth trophy.

JK: I didn’t love Reba’s gospel album– the first disc of traditional Southern gospel was far better than the second disc of bland CCM– but I’m glad to see her nominated again this year. Lambert would have my full support on the strength of The Weight of These Wings, even if radio has turned on her and even though she has won, by my count, three more of these awards than she should have, largely at the expense of Underwood. If voters are as ready to move on from Lambert as radio seems to be, Morris is a better bet than Ballerini, whose momentum finally seems to have found water-level with her marginal talent.

Vocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town – JK
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band – KJC

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town – KJC, JK
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

KJC:  Little Big Town will win easily, and they’ll deserve it. But I’d give it this year to Zac Brown Band, for “My Old Man” and their collective work to date. Some of it has been subpar, but they’ve put out enough solid music to win this award at least once, don’t you think?

JK: I agree that Zac Brown Band should have won this award a few times by now, but, beyond “My Old Man,” I’m just not sold on their new album. For that matter, I’m not sold on Little Big Town’s new album. And I’m definitely not sold on the latest by Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, or Old Dominion. I’m just going to pretend that this lineup included Turnpike Troubadours, Old 97s, and Delta Rae.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brothers Osborne – KJC, JK
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • LOCASH
  • Maddie & Tae

Will Win:

  • Brothers Osborne – KJC, JK
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • LOCASH
  • Maddie & Tae

KJC: This category is so sparse that you can release nothing and still get nominated. Then again, releasing silence is still better than Florida Georgia Line releasing sound. Brothers Osborne for the meaningless win.

JK: The last couple of years, Maddie & Tae were my pick, but they shouldn’t even be nominated this year based upon the eligibility criteria. Fortunately, Brothers Osborne released one of my favorite mainstream singles of the year with “It Ain’t My Fault,” so they’re an easy pick here. As ever, this category and the Vocal Group should be combined to trim the fat.

New Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Luke Combs
  • Old Dominion
  • Jon Pardi – KJC, JK
  • Brett Young

Will Win:

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Luke Combs
  • Old Dominion
  • Jon Pardi – KJC, JK
  • Brett Young

KJC: I like Jon Pardi and he’s got the biggest hit of the nominees, so I imagine he’ll also win.

JK: Pardi’s the only one of these five who has released any music that I’ve liked at all, so he’d be my choice by default. It’s a shame that CMA voters were willing to look beyond radio playlists for nominees in other categories but seem focused only on acts who’ve cracked the top 5 at radio in the past year for their New Artist picks. William Michael Morgan, Drake White, and Mickey Guyton are all more promising, superior talents to these acts, and all have at least flirted with some mainstream success, to say nothing of Dori Freeman, who’s already on her second fantastic album in two years’ time.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound – KJC, JK
  • Lady Antebellum, Heart Break
  • Miranda Lambert, The Weight of these Wings
  • Little Big Town, The Breaker
  • Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1

Will Win:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
  • Lady Antebellum, Heart Break
  • Miranda Lambert, The Weight of these Wings – KJC, JK
  • Little Big Town, The Breaker
  • Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1

 

KJC: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit released the best album, but hoping for a Chris Stapleton-like win is a tall order. Stapleton presents as an indie artist but has a major label contract and the voting blocs that came along with it. I’d love to be wrong, but being right won’t be too bad, either, since I think that the excellent Miranda Lambert album will be her third victory in this category.

JK: Isbell’s nomination is a triumph of good taste and outside-the-box thinking, and I imagine that he’ll pull a decent number of votes. But he’s definitely more of a Brandy Clark than a Chris Stapleton in terms of having enough of a voter base to pull off a win. He’d be my pick by just a hair over Lambert; The Weight of These Wings is only her second-or-third best album, but that still puts her well ahead of nearly any of her contemporaries. She seems poised to win, though Stapleton wouldn’t be a shock, either. I think he’d stand a better chance had he released From a Room as a double-album instead of bifurcating his release schedule. Little Big Town is also nominated for their worst album, and Lady A is here for an album that’s as boring as most everything they’ve released since their debut.

Single of the Year

Should Win:

  • Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Tin Man” – JK
  • Little Big Town, “Better Man” – KJC
  • Jon Pardi, “Dirt On My Boots”
  • Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”

Will Win:

  • Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road” – KJC, JK
  • Miranda Lambert, “Tin Man”
  • Little Big Town, “Better Man”
  • Jon Pardi, “Dirt On My Boots”
  • Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”

KJC: Sam Hunt was #1 for more than half a year, so I assume it will win. It’s the weakest nominee in terms of quality, competing against three very good records and one great one: “Better Man.”  Oh, how I wish it was “Vice” that had that Lambert slot.

JK:  Hunt seems like the obvious choice based upon his absurd commercial stats, and, as we just counted down, the CMAs aren’t averse to giving this award to a massively popular single that has nothing but its own popularity to recommend it. It will instantly rank as the worst winner in the category’s history. “Tin Man” would get my vote; it’s lovely and understated in its melancholy and is the best-produced and best-performed of the five nominees.

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Better Man” – Taylor Swift – KJC
  • “Blue Ain’t Your Color” – Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey, and Steven Lee Olsen
  • “Body Like a Back Road” – Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
  • “Dirt On My Boots” – Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure, and Ashley Gorley
  • “Tin Man” – Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall – JK

Will Win:

  • “Better Man” – Taylor Swift – KJC
  • “Blue Ain’t Your Color” – Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey, and Steven Lee Olsen
  • “Body Like a Back Road” – Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
  • “Dirt On My Boots” – Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure, and Ashley Gorley
  • “Tin Man” – Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall – JK

KJC: “Tin Man” will threaten, but I doubt the CMA will resist the temptation to once again claim Taylor Swift as their own, especially since she hasn’t won this award yet. I think she deserves it, too, again because “Vice” isn’t nominated.

JK: I agree that this likely comes down to “Better Man” versus “Tin Man,” but I think Lambert’s track will have the edge with the CMA voters, who were never very bullish on Swift and who won’t be eager to embrace her now that she’s jumped ship to pop. That Lambert’s song was co-written by two well-regarded country veterans in Ingram and Randall helps here, too. I imagine that I’ll be writing the exact opposite prediction in a couple months, though, when we look at the eventual Grammy nominees.

Music Video of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brothers Osborne, “It Ain’t My Fault” (Directed by Wes Edwards and Ryan Silver)
  • Miranda Lambert, “Vice” (Directed by Trey Fanjoy) – KJC, JK
  • Little Big Town, “Better Man” (Directed by Becky Fluke and Reid Long)
  • Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris, “Craving You” (Directed by TK McKamy)
  • Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Directed by Carter Smith)

Will Win:

  • Brothers Osborne, “It Ain’t My Fault” (Directed by Wes Edwards and Ryan Silver) – KJC, JK
  • Miranda Lambert, “Vice” (Directed by Trey Fanjoy)
  • Little Big Town, “Better Man” (Directed by Becky Fluke and Reid Long)
  • Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris, “Craving You” (Directed by TK McKamy)
  • Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Directed by Carter Smith)

KJC: “It Ain’t My Fault” is the video that got the most attention this year, but “Vice” is one of those rare country music clips that attempts symbolism and metaphor and brilliantly succeeds.

JK: I’m usually lukewarm on Fanjoy’s videos, but “Vice” actually hit its marks, capturing the headiness of one of Lambert’s finest singles. In most any other year, I’d be thrilled to see a video as noteworthy as “It Ain’t My Fault” win, so I won’t be too upset when it does.

Musical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • Glen Campbell with Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
  • Kenny Chesney with P!nk, “Setting the World on Fire”
  • Eric Church featuring Rhiannon Giddens, “Kill a Word” – KJC, JK
  • Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “Speak to a Girl”
  • Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris, “Craving You”

Will Win:

  • Glen Campbell with Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
  • Kenny Chesney with P!nk, “Setting the World on Fire”
  • Eric Church featuring Rhiannon Giddens, “Kill a Word”
  • Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, “Speak to a Girl”
  • Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris, “Craving You” – KJC, JK

KJC: Don’t even bother thinking there are enough CMA voters left to embrace sentiment and give the win to Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson. Not when there’s a P.Y.T. pair up to pick instead. Anyway, the best record of the five isn’t either of those. “Kill a Word” is genius, and it has two of the most talented singers making music anywhere these days.

JK: Isbell’s nomination for Album of the Year has garnered a great deal of attention, and rightfully so, but let’s not understate the significance of MacArthur-certified genius Rhiannon Giddens’ also having landed on the CMA ballot this year. “Kill A Word” should have been nominated for Single Of The Year– and, hell, I’d personally have nominated Giddens for Female Vocalist and Album of the Year– and it’s the class of this field. But Rhett is too inexplicably popular not to win something, so the tired-ass drug metaphor of “Craving You” will likely win here.

Musician of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jerry Douglas (Dobro)
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar) – KJC, JK
  • Dann Huff (Guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (Guitar)
  • Derek Wells (Guitar)

Will Win:

  • Jerry Douglas (Dobro)
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar)
  • Dann Huff (Guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (Guitar) – KJC, JK
  • Derek Wells (Guitar)

KJC: Same thing I say every year. Give it to Paul Franklin already. I’ll say the same thing next year, too.

JK: Per usual, I’ll pick Franklin (in lieu of perennial nominee Sam Bush, absent this year) as my Should Win until he does win and McAnally as my Will Win until he doesn’t. It’s also worth mentioning that there has never once been a woman nominated for either the Musician Of The Year or Instrumentalist Of The Year categories at the CMAs.

9 Comments

  1. I’m shocked that Jonathan you think Little Big Towns latest album is their worst when Wanderlust and Pain Killer exists.

    Anyways whose who I want to win
    Entertainer: Eric Church
    Female: Miranda Lambert or Maren Morris (really anyone but Kelsea Ballerini)
    Male: Chris Stapleton
    Duo: Brothers Osborne
    Group: Lady Antebellum (I actually really liked their last album and I think they have a shot since Little Big Towns momentum is at an all time low)
    Album: Weight of These Wings
    Single: Body Like A Backroad
    Song: Tin Man
    Video: It Ain’t My Fault
    Vocal Event: Kill A Word
    New Artist: Lauren Alaina (so hoping that she can somehow win, her album released this year was actually one of the more acclaimed mainstream albums as it was a great slice of pop country, also she’s the only women this year with two Billboard #1s with “Road Less Traveled” and “What Ifs” so she might have a shot)

    I am somewhat excited for the award show, but who knows. There is some uncertainty with a lot of the awards this year and I have been let down before.

  2. Great analysis and picks, guys! I agree with most of your thoughts, outside of a couple. I don’t feel like Church is a slam dunk at all for EoTY. He’s absolutely deserving, but I don’t trust the CMAs to finally do him right. I hope they prove me wrong. I feel like Stapleton is a bigger favorite and even the “safe” pick of Garth. I love and respect Reba, but she shouldn’t be nominated, let alone win. There are so many deserving independent female artists that should have that spot instead. Group and Duo of the Year categories are a joke like always. We all know Little Big Town will win, but they could at least throw in some independent/Texas scene names just for some recognition. The Brothers Osborne beating FGL again will make me quite happy. And you have to wonder what the future holds for FGL, as their popularity wanes.

    Song of the Year in my mind is a lock for “Better Man.” The CMA will not resist giving Taylor another award. But hey it’s a good song and is better than anything you’ll hear on her new album. Miranda will take AoTY and I never thought I would be disappointed in this album winning. Isbell winning is worth it just to hear what he would say at the podium. But Lambert is definitely deserving and Stapleton would be deserving too if he won. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lambert gave a shout out to Isbell in her victory speech because she’s cool like that. Overall I’m expecting a predictable show, but I’m sure they’ll be a couple of surprises to make it interesting.

  3. A bit surprised Reba was even nominated. She is great but should not have been nominated this year. If we were to include veteran artist without chart hits I would nave nominated Dolly who has had a lot of success the last 2 years. It is amazing that we have not had a new powerhouse female vocalist in some time.

  4. I think that Reba more than earned the nomination, given that she had the #1 album for two weeks, two very well received shows at the Ryman, and an ongoing successful Vegas residency.

    It’s interesting that all of the women who topped the albums chart this year – Reba, Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, and Shania Twain – have done so with little to no assistance from country radio. Meanwhile, despite tremendous support from radio, Ballerini couldn’t even get her first album to gold, and gold includes streaming now.

    I’d never complain about the inclusion of Dolly Parton, another woman with a #1 country album during the eligibility period. Given the success of the accompanying tour, she certainly deserves consideration.

    My lineup would probably look like this:

    Rhiannon Giddens
    Alison Krauss
    Miranda Lambert
    Reba McEntire
    Dolly Parton

    Only leaving out Underwood because she won last year and didn’t put out new music this year.

  5. Dismal array from the CMA. I won’t be watching (or recording to watch later). I’m impressed by Giddens. I liked Isbell’s comment re CMA’s threat to keep journalists from making comments about guns, politics, or Las Vegas. I’ve come to like some Church songs. Kree Harrison is playing on my Bose as i comment.

  6. I think if I did a female vocalist. I would have it looking like this

    Maren Morris
    Lauren Alaina
    Miranda Lambert
    Shania Twain
    Reba McEntire

    A combination of critical acclaim and having a couple of veteran artists. Maren Morris has maintained a stable radio prescence. Lauren Alaina topped the radio charts twice with Road Less Traveled and her guest feature on What Ifs. Miranda Lambert is Miranda Lambert. Reba McEntire had a huge Gospel album it seemed like, and Shania Twain had her huge comeback year this year. Kelsea Ballerini has really cooled down this year and Carrie Underwood didn’t release anything.

  7. @ Raymond
    I consider Wanderlust just a one-off side-project; there wasn’t much of a real promotional push behind it compared to their proper albums. It definitely wasn’t great, but I don’t think anyone tried to sell it as anything more than it was. Pain Killer was a major disappointment, too; I just feel like that album’s failings were a matter of the band’s and Jay Joyce’s ambitions exceeding their good sense and taste. Which is to say that it’s a mess, but at least it’s a mess that’s kind of interesting. Whereas their latest is a couple of good songs and a whole lot of deeply boring filler that all sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of a well. In any case, Tornado was their last good album!

  8. I have read so many blogs and predictions for the awards this year and it’s crazy how each one completely ignore the elegibility period for the award show they are writing an article about. It honestly seems so lazy to me. I obviously know Carrie has no chance at winning based on the last ten years of country award shows. However, to completely disregard her in the should win category or seeing comments saying she shouldn’t be nominated is ridiculous. Between 7/1/2016- 6/30/2017 Carrie had THREE singles peak at number one with Church Bells, Dirty Laundry, and The Fighter. As well as the second half of a Critically acclaimed tour with a 98% attendance rate. To me that seems like enough for a nomination as well as a follow up win from last year but silly me for taking into account an eligibility period that nobody seems to use. Like I said before, I’m not saying people need to predict her to win but at least aknowlege her accomplishments.

  9. KJC – Why should Lambert have been nominated and perhaps won Entertainer? I get that her album is another great one, but isn’t Entertainer about much more? She didn’t have any real hits this past year. Did she have a big tour?

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