Kenny Chesney. Keith Urban. Alan Jackson. Tim McGraw. Dixie Chicks. Shania Twain. Garth Brooks.
Those are the seven acts that have been deemed worthy of CMA’s Entertainer of the Year trophy in the past ten years.
It’s their most prestigious award, the one that caps off the night, and while the ACM has always put a high premium on big ticket sales, the CMA has honored some acts in this category who elevate the industry with their talent. Vince Gill’s two wins are the best representation of this trend. The Urban and Jackson victories are the most recent.
So when I pick the five acts that I’d like to see nominated, I’m choosing those who are firing on all cylinders right now: commercial success, artistic achievement and representation of the genre as a whole. Ideally, the entertainer of the year should be an ambassador of the format, and I think that the following five acts have that perfect combination of integrity and visibility this year.
Three-time winner and reigning champion. The past year brought a handful of strong singles, most notably “Don’t Blink” and “Better as a Memory.” There isn’t anybody else on the scene who’s selling tickets like him. There’s no denying he’s the king of the road, and he’s held that title for a longer stretch than any artist since Garth Brooks.
Another great year at radio is nothing new for Paisley, who has been a mainstay on the dial for almost a decade. But as a ticket draw, he’s brought it to a new level, headlining major venues across the country. He’s widely seen as an artist as well, with that credibility only being heightened by his instrumental prowess. Earlier this year, he won his first Grammy, and it was for his instrumental work, which will also be highlighted on his upcoming CD Play.
He’s been so consistently good for so long, it’s easy to overlook when he kicks things into a higher gear. It’s as if his Hall of Fame induction rejuvenated him, and he’s been making better music because of it. He sells tons of tickets whenever he decides to play, and his new album has been a top seller.
The only duos in history to be nominated for this award are the Judds and Brooks & Dunn. This year, Sugarland should become the third. Their live show is notoriously awesome, they’ve posted huge numbers at radio and retail, and the critical reception for their new album has been overwhelmingly positive.
The airplay stats, record and ticket sales speak for themselves, but her impact is larger than those already impressive numbers. She is the genre’s best ambassador right now to the world outside of country music. She maintains the interest of her younger fanbase without pandering to it, and crafts music that is still appealing to adults. She’s as much in her element paying tribute to Eddy Arnold as she is covering a George Michael social justice anthem. She doesn’t just deserve to be the first female solo artist to be nominated in eight years; she deserves to win.