As we gear up for tomorrow night’s CMA Awards Show, the staff of Country Universe share our personal picks in all categories. Check back tomorrow for our predictions in each category. Our third annual Live Blog will commence at the beginning of the show.
- Kenny Chesney- Blake
- Brad Paisley – Leeann, Lynn
- George Strait
- Sugarland – Kevin, Dan
- Keith Urban
Kevin: The only act in the running this year who has shown artistic, commercial and live performance growth is Sugarland, and they’ve grown by leaps and bounds. In a race with four other acts who have long since settled into their styles, they’re the only ones who are still charting new territory.
Leeann: While Paisley may not use explosions or other fancy tricks to entertain his crowds, much like Vince Gill, he keeps them mesmerized with his comedy, graphic creations, incredible guitar prowess and a catalog of engaging songs – in other words, natural talent.
Blake: Kenny Chesney is the most significant touring act in country music and a genre-crossing ambassador for both fans and fly-by-night followers.
Dan: They can’t claim Chesney’s utter domination of the road, but Sugarland have been consistent sellers in a time where the very idea of selling well feels antiquated. They’re probably the best mainstream ambassadors for the genre right now, too, with musical output that challenges commercial conventions (see “Stay”), at least sort of acknowledges country music’s traditions (again, see “Stay”), and draws creatively from other genres (see the Beyoncé duet, the high-profile covers of Dream Academy and Matt Nathanson, the mish-mashy new album).
Lynn: With natural talent, charm, good humor, humility, skills and grace, Paisley is my pick for Entertainer of the Year. He’s an asset to the genre, and manages to keep one foot in traditional country even as he branches out. Although he’s not as big of a touring act as Chesney, he’s still a huge draw, and despite all the gimmicks and gadgets in his concert, true to the genre, he keeps the music at the heart of his show.
- Kenny Chesney
- Alan Jackson – Leeann
- Brad Paisley - Blake
- George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Lynn
- Keith Urban
Leeann: With Paisley as my close second choice, Jackson has the clear, smooth voice that ultimately gets my vote. Like the man, his voice is simple but it is able to expertly capture each emotion that is needed for each song that he sings. Moreover, every note that he sings comes with incredible ease.
Blake: His attempts at humor miss the mark occasionally, and his vocal range compares little to the great voices of the genre, but Paisley, with his tremendous guitar playing and stellar songwriting executes well enough to win a second consecutive Male Vocalist honor.
Dan: They all kind of put me to sleep this year, but George did it with the strongest set of songs. Paisley will probably repeat, but I say “Strait ’08.”
Lynn: This is a tough category for me this year. I’m a fan of Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and George Strait, but none of them really impressed me with their musical output. I’m going with Strait for keeping it country.
Kevin: All of these men have been repeatedly honored by the CMA. Collectively, they have 54 awards and 240 nominations to date. It’s been a decade since Strait took this one home, and he’s put out better music this year than both Jackson and Urban, the only other vocalists here that are in his league.
- Alison Krauss
- Miranda Lambert – Kevin, Leeann, Blake (tie), Dan, Lynn
- Martina McBride
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood – Blake (tie)
Blake: Underwood’s powerful pipes and positive contribution to the image of the genre deserve props. Likewise to Lambert’s intelligent songwriting, fearless stage attitude and feisty vocal firepower.
Dan: We’re all pretty big fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend here, so…yeah.
Lynn: Except for Swift, vocally this category is a toss-up, and could be decided solely on personal preference. However, if one considers the strength of material as well, this award goes to Miranda Lambert, hands down.
Kevin: Alison Krauss and Carrie Underwood are both worthy of the honor, but Miranda Lambert deserves it the most. She made the best music.
Leeann: Miranda has proven that she can sing a rocker with the necessary grit and energy to appropriate drive her up-tempo songs, but she has also demonstrated a lesser known ability to be able to sing with vulnerability and sensitivity when called upon to do so. Out of the female singers on this list, Lambert has the most interesting voice.