2020 CMA Awards: Picks and Predictions

The CMA Awards are almost here!  That may not bring the excitement that it used to.  But hey, we’ve got Colonel Sanders and the Burger King Cowboy hosting this year, so that should be fun!

Here are our personal picks for each category, as well as our predictions on who will win.  The show airs live on Wednesday, November 11.

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

  • Eric Church
  • Luke Combs
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Carrie Underwood – ZK, JK, KJC, TS
  • Keith Urban

Will Win:

  • Eric Church – JK
  • Luke Combs – KJC, TS
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Carrie Underwood – ZK
  • Keith Urban

Zackary Kephart: Two female candidates for this award, and they’ll still likely screw it up by giving it to Keith Urban. The pessimist in me knows better, though, and would like to think this is (finally) Underwood’s year. Stranger things have happened this year, so hopefully they end off the night with a pick that makes sense.

Jonathan Keefe: As with the recent ACMs, the “should” win comes down to Church and Underwood, both long overdue for the recognition, while the CMAs’ obstinate refusal to read the room in favor of maintaining its white male status quo makes me uneasy enough to worry they’ll do something stupid here and give this to Urban. Split the difference, and I’ll land on Church, but part of me really wants to pull the trigger on their going with a premature Combs victory. Underwood would be my pick.

Kevin John Coyne: Underwood is so overdue at this point it’s like waiting for Susan Lucci to win an Emmy. There’s a dude they can give it to instead, so at this point, I expect that they will.  Church is also long overdue, but unlike Underwood and Church, a Luke Combs victory can let CMA industry voters celebrate a success that happened because of them, not in spite of them. 

Tara Seetharam: I’ll keep picking Underwood until she gets her due, but a premature Combs win wouldn’t be the worst thing. He fits the EOTY mold well and I suspect this will be a big night for him.

Male Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Eric Church – ZK, JK
  • Luke Combs – KJC, TS
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Will Win:

  • Eric Church
  • Luke Combs – ZK, JK, KJC, TS
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

ZK: I remember when Chris Stapleton was the safe pick for this award. He might be again next year, but for now, betting against Luke Combs is foolish. In terms of who used their voice for what mattered most this year, however, I’d go with either Stapleton or Eric Church. Can’t argue with Combs, though.

JK: I’ll be interested to see if Stapleton’s new material makes him competitive in these races again next year. Based on what everyone released during the eligibility year, I’d go for Church, easy, but there’s no way Combs loses here, and that’s also deserved.

KJC: Luke Combs is more than deserving of a repeat victory.  I’d love to see Church win as well, but I think it will take another studio album to get him over the finish line. 

TS: I remain cautiously optimistic about Combs as an up-and-coming genre star. Like Jonathan, I am also curious to see whether Stapleton makes a comeback next year; I hope he does.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde – ZK, JK, KJC, TS
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood

Will Win:

  • Miranda Lambert 
  • Ashley McBryde
  • Maren Morris – JK, KJC, TS
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood – ZK

JK: Morris seems like the most obvious winner this year, unless her political statements drove the CMAs’ more conservative voters away. That’s not inconceivable, but I don’t have a good feel for whether they’d go en masse back to either Underwood or Lambert. McBryde released the best music of the five during the eligibility period by an impossible margin, and she’d get my vote without hesitation.

ZK: Really couldn’t argue with a winner here, even if I want Ashley McBryde to get this award. If they don’t give Entertainer of the Year to Carrie Underwood, though, she might get this one, since they seem to like viewing these as consolation prizes, for some reason. 

KJC:  Maren Morris is likely to repeat her ACM victory, and I have no problem with that, given her recent singles and her contributions to the Highwomen project.  But Ashley McBryde made the best music this year, by far. 

TS: McBryde’s recent material is a league above the others’, but Morris has the momentum. I’m fine with that; she’s been a solid ambassador for the genre in the eligibility period.

Vocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady A
  • Little Big Town
  • Midland – ZK, JK, KJC, TS
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts

Will Win:

  • Lady A
  • Little Big Town
  • Midland
  • Old Dominion – JK, KJC, TS
  • Rascal Flatts – ZK

ZK: Betting against Old Dominion may sound stupid, but with Rascal Flatts’ temporary farewell, this might be their award. If nothing else, at least Old Dominion are making somewhat decent music now, and the only bad choice is Lady [redacted].

JK: God, I hope there isn’t some lingering sense that Rascal Flatts is somehow owed anything more than someone holding the door open for them on their way out. Old Dominion will win for whothefuckknows why, while Midland is the only group of the five who released anything I’d listen to on purpose this year.

KJC: Old Dominion seem to be the group of the moment.  Midland made better music, though. 

TS: Not much to say here. How I wish Little Big Town had released a better album!

Vocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae – ZK, JK, KJC, TS

Will Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay – ZK, JK, KJC, TS
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae

ZK: Like with the group category, this is another category that’s been boring to predict for the past few years. Like with that category, though, this year is a bit different, as Maddie & Tae finally have some deserved momentum behind them off of “Die From A Broken Heart.” I don’t think it’ll be enough to top bargain barrel Rascal Flatts, but I have to hold out hope. 

JK: Feels awesome to have some commercial backing to justify a Maddie & Tae pick! BrOs would be my silver medalists, while Dan + Shay will ride their continued baffling popularity to another win.

KJC: Maddie & Tae had a great year, even though they didn’t have quite the success that Dan + Shay did.  But they did it without an assist from Justin Bieber.  So there’s that. 

TS: I really want to be surprised in this category – there is a universe where Maddie & Tae’s well-deserved success boosts them to a win. But I think it will fall to Dan + Shay yet again, and man am I ready for their popularity to be over.

New Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jimmie Allen
  • Ingrid Andress – ZK
  • Gabby Barrett
  • Carly Pearce – JK, KJC, TS
  • Morgan Wallen

Will Win:

  • Jimmie Allen – ZK
  • Ingrid Andress
  • Gabby Barrett
  • Carly Pearce
  • Morgan Wallen – JK, KJC, TS

ZK: Why Carly Pearce and Morgan Wallen are here is beyond me – especially Wallen. I like Ingrid Andress’ music the most out of this lackluster category, but with the general mood surrounding the year, and given how the CMAs have typically been better than recognizing “moments” than the ACMs, I could see Jimmie Allen getting this, too. 

JK: It doesn’t matter if he’s a talentless hack who’s spent the year showing his entire ass to the world, there is no way the one white man nominated in a category loses a CMA award. Pearce continues to make the best music of these nominees… as she moves into her third album era. Allen’s ACM performance was the first time I’ve been truly impressed by him, while I straight-up just can’t stand Andress’ voice.

KJC: I’d also like to see a Carly Pearce victory, one a bit like the 1992 race, where long-toiling Suzy Bogguss won over a field of talents that were having more high-profile successes (Brooks & Dunn, Billy Dean, Pam Tillis, and Trisha Yearwood.)   Great. Now I miss the nineties.  (I always miss the nineties.)

TS: The quality of her material is touch and go, but I really enjoy Pearce as an artist and vocalist, and I have high hopes for her future. (Also, yeah, super weird that she’s nominated here.) This is Wallen’s to lose.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

  • Luke Combs, What You See is What You Get
  • Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
  • Ashley McBryde, Never Will – ZK, HK, KJC, TS
  • Old Dominion, Old Dominion
  • Jon Pardi, Heartache Medication

Will Win:

  • Luke Combs, What You See is What You Get – JK, KJC
  • Miranda Lambert, Wildcard – ZK, TS
  • Ashley McBryde, Never Will
  • Old Dominion, Old Dominion
  • Jon Pardi, Heartache Medication

JK: One obviously great album squares off against three decent ones and also Old Dominion. That Combs’ album is the one you can guarantee the most voters actually heard makes me think he’ll win, but I could also see the more traditionalist voters rallying around Pardi. Or they’ll just lazily check off Lambert again, this time for her career-worst album.

ZK: I mean, it’s nowhere near as bad of a field as last year, but Ashley McBryde’s release is the only actual great one here. Since I’m viewing this as a large domino effect, I’m predicting they’ll screw up Entertainer, give Carrie Underwood the Female Vocalist award as a consolation prize, and recognize Miranda Lambert’s commercial comeback here. Yeah, it’s pessimistic, but that’s what happens when you write about an industry with systemic issues. I’d love to be wrong.

KJC: Ashley McBryde deserves it.  Luke Combs is worthy enough, and he’s likely to win it. Again, he’s the biggest artist in a long time that the industry can claim as a product of their system.  That should make the difference. 

TS: I think Lambert may pick this up based on the visibility of “Bluebird” and that she’s a comfortable fit in this category, as Jonathan said. But certainly Never Will is the best of the five.

Single of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” Luke Combs
  • “Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert – JK, KJC, TS
  • “The Bones,” Maren Morris – ZK
  • “I Hope,” Gabby Barrett
  • “10,000 Hours,” Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber

Will Win:

  • “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” Luke Combs – JK, KJC, TS
  • “Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert
  • “The Bones,” Maren Morris 
  • “I Hope,” Gabby Barrett – ZK
  • “10,000 Hours,” Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber

ZK: As usual, a not-so-great category. As far as commercial success goes, this should likely go to “10,000 Hours,” but I want to vote for the dark horse pick in “I Hope,” for some reason. I have a hunch. 

JK: Surely to God, the self-loathing streak within the genre won’t lead to a win for Biebs. I think the women split the vote, to the benefit of Combs. 

KJC: Luke Combs is going to win big this year. 

TS: What Kevin said. Personally, I could get behind Lambert or even Morris.

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Bluebird,” Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert
  • “The Bones,” Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz
  • “Even Though I’m Leaving,” Luke Combs, Wyatt Durrette, and Ray Fulcher
  • “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Luke Combs, Randy Montana, Carly Pearce, and Jonathon Singleton
  • “More Hearts Than Mine,” Ingrid Andress, Sam Ellis, and Derek Southerland – ZK, JK, KJC, TS

Will Win:

  • “Bluebird,” Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert – JK
  • “The Bones,” Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, and Laura Veltz
  • “Even Though I’m Leaving,” Luke Combs, Wyatt Durrette, and Ray Fulcher – ZK
  • “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Luke Combs, Randy Montana, Carly Pearce, and Jonathon Singleton – KJC, TS
  • “More Hearts Than Mine,” Ingrid Andress, Sam Ellis, and Derek Southerland

ZK: The complete opposite of the Single category, this is actually an impressive field. Combs’ track is the heartwarming one that will likely go down smooth in 2020, and I wouldn’t be mad at all if it won. 

JK: Like I said, I don’t like Andress’ voice, but I think she had the best-written song of this middling crop. I’d say this is Lambert’s safest bet of the night. And, considering she’s won for dreadful songs like “Over You” and “Automatic,” this will be an improvement.

KJC: “I Hope You’re Happy Now” gives voters a chance to honor a bunch of people they’re quite fond of. I echo my colleagues regarding “More Hearts Than Mine.”  

TS: I’m struggling with this one. I don’t like “More Hearts Than Mine” but I suppose it is the most interestingly written? “I Hope You’re Happy Now” is a personal favorite, but it’s the performances that shine, not the writing. But as Kevin said, the latter gives the voters an opportunity to recognize a few favorites in one sweep.

Music Video of the Year

Should Win:

  • “10,000 Hours,” Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber
    Directed by Dan Smyers
  • “Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert
    Directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • “Homemade,” Jake Owen
    Directed by Justin Clough
  • “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Carly Pearce and Lee Brice
    Directed by Sam Siske
  • “Second One to Know,” Chris Stapleton
    Directed by David Coleman – ZK, JK, KJC

Will Win:

  • “10,000 Hours,” Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber
    Directed by Dan Smyers – JK
  • “Bluebird,” Miranda Lambert
    Directed by Trey Fanjoy – ZK
  • “Homemade,” Jake Owen
    Directed by Justin Clough
  • “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” Carly Pearce and Lee Brice
    Directed by Sam Siske
  • “Second One to Know,” Chris Stapleton
    Directed by David Coleman – KJC

ZK: Couldn’t care less about this one. I just want to say: Let’s go LEGO man

JK: Here’s the bone I think they’re most likely to throw to the godawful Bieber duet, though I suppose I could just be underestimating the potential for either that or “Bluebird” to sweep. The Stapleton LEGO video is the only one actually notable in any way.

KJC: Yeah, if this is going to go to the best video, it isn’t even a contest. I kinda think it will go to the best video.  Come on, CMA.  Prove me right. 

Musical Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”
  • Miranda Lambert with Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack, and Elle King, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”
  • Maren Morris featuring Hozier, “The Bones” – JK, KJC, TS
  • Carly Pearce and Lee Brice, “I Hope You’re Happy Now” – ZK
  • Thomas Rhett with Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin, and Keith Urban, “Be a Light”

Will Win:

  • Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”
  • Miranda Lambert with Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack, and Elle King, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”
  • Maren Morris featuring Hozier, “The Bones”
  • Carly Pearce and Lee Brice, “I Hope You’re Happy Now” – KJC
  • Thomas Rhett with Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin, and Keith Urban, “Be a Light” – ZK, JK, TS

ZK: Let’s be blunt, there’s no way the charity single doesn’t get this award. It’s fine enough, I guess, though this is another category that’s fairly bland. 

JK: I assume the two actual country radio hits– which, the Morris and Hozier version of “The Bones” wasn’t pushed within the format– will split enough votes to ensure that Rhett doesn’t go home empty-handed. But what a useless line-up here.

KJC:  “I Hope You’re Happy Now” is my pick for what will win, but wow, did Hozier breathe life into “The Bones.”

TS: An opportunity for Rhett to be recognized, no doubt.

Musician of the Year

Should Win:

  • Jenee Fleenor (Fiddle) – ZK, JK
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar) – KJC, TS
  • Rob McNelley (Guitar)
  • Ilya Toshinsky (Banjo/Guitar)
  • Derek Wells (Guitar)

Will Win:

  • Jenee Fleenor (Fiddle) – ZK, JK, KJC, TS
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar)
  • Rob McNelley (Guitar)
  • Ilya Toshinsky (Banjo/Guitar)
  • Derek Wells (Guitar)

JK: Fleenor will win, and that’s just fine by me; she’s a terrific talent whose work elevates the hits she performs on. 

Franklin, as ever, would also be a fine choice. Really, there’s no way to give this to someone who isn’t genuinely good at what they do.

ZK: And now, the most unsurprisingly consistent category we ever have here. It’s a shame it never receives as much attention as the other ones. 

KJC: Hi, Paul Franklin still hasn’t won and that’s ridiculous.

TS: A good line-up with a predictable outcome.

2 Comments

  1. I like Ashley McBryde for female vocalist and album, primarily because of the best new song i’ve heard this year, a song that was not a single: “Stone”, written by Ashley and Nicolette Hayford.
    male vocalist – luke or eric
    vocal group – Midland, love “Cheatin’ Songs”
    biggest disappointment with these awards – no Brandy Clark nominations

  2. Like most of you, I really want Carrie to win. Not only is she deserving, but I feel like it’s now or never. For all she has done for country music it would be a shame to not give credit where credit is due. However, all the lists I have seen, she isn’t preforming. How telling is that? To not have an Entertainer nominated artist not preform? Is that a sign that she/her team don’t think she will win and aren’t making an effort? Is that the CMA choosing to not have her preform because they don’t think she will will and don’t want bad press like last year? Or could her not preforming have nothing to do with it? Thanks.

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