ACM Awards 2008: Personal Picks

As has become our annual custom, Country Universe will be live-blogging this year’s ACM awards, which air on CBS Sunday, May 18 at 8 pm Eastern. The ACM’s are always an interesting show, with a bigger emphasis on commercial success than the CMA’s or the Grammys. Reba McEntire is back as host, and while she was a little too tart in 2006, she was pure class in 2007, so here’s hoping for a repeat performance on her part.

The ACM’s are mixing it up a bit this year by making Entertainer of the Year fan-voted, which gives Rascal Flatts their best shot yet at winning the award, even if their reason for coveting it has been taken away. As has surprisingly been the case the past few years, the veterans that no longer get the stage at the CMA’s can be found at the ACM’s, with this year featuring a performance by living legend Dolly Parton.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s nominees, along with personal picks from both Country Universe writers in every category. Tune in tomorrow night, and drop in on our live blog. I bet we can top the comment thread from the Grammys in February!

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Kevin’s Pick: Keith Urban

I don’t think there’s a better all-around entertainer these days than Keith Urban. His live show is electric, his songwriting top-notch and as his latest hits collection has proved, he’s been an unfailingly consistent recording artist, managing to make his music more interesting while still turning out the hits. This year’s race is going to come down to the fans with the most dedication, but using the criteria that the award calls for, my pick is Urban.

Leeann’s Pick: Brad Paisley

Since I have not been to a live concert of any of these artists, I have to make my choice by recollecting the concerts that I’ve either viewed on television or heard via a radio broadcast. Therefore, I cannot claim to know what it is actually like to be at their concerts. So, my choice is somewhat based on how I imagine their concerts would be.

My choices in this category vascilate between Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. Both entertainers are known for their energetic shows and incredible guitar prowess. I, however, choose Brad Paisley when it comes right down to it. I think his concerts have a good mixture of energy, talent and humor that does an excellent job of keeping an audience entertained.

Top Male Vocalist

  • Rodney Atkins
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Leeann’s Pick: Keith Urban

To me, the clear choice is Keith Urban. He has a unique voice that is instantly recognizeable. Not only does his gritty, soulful voice wrap perfectly around any song of his choosing, he has proven his ability to step back as a complementary background vocalist as well, as evidenced by his vocal appearances with Rhonda Vincent and Trisha Yearwood.

Kevin’s Pick: Keith Urban

Rodney Atkins is the only artist nominated who has yet to win this award, and this is his first nomination. Kudos to him for making the race on the strength of his very successful second album, but I don’t think he’s yet reached the caliber of the other four contenders. Since those other four have already won this, I’m going with Urban, who continues to grow as a vocalist. It’s a shame, however, that Josh Turner and Gary Allan aren’t in the running.

Top Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • LeAnn Rimes
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Kevin’s Pick: Carrie Underwood

There’s quite a bit of turnover in this category, with LeAnn Rimes and Taylor Swift joining the party. Rimes made the best album of her career, while Swift has spent most of this year at the top of the charts with her debut disc. Miranda Lambert is making far better music than the rest of the lineup. But Carrie Underwood is still the finest singer out there right now, and I think she deserves to repeat. She’s had another great year.

Leeann’s Pick: LeAnn Rimes

Except for one nominee, this is a tough category to judge. Nevertheless, my ultimate choice has to be LeAnn Rimes. While her voice was impressively mature as a 13-year-old singer of “Blue”, she has surpassed all of my hopes for her vocal maturity. Twelve years later, her voice has gained a richness and depth that is greatly deserving of this award.

Top Vocal Group

  • Diamond Rio
  • Eagles
  • Emerson Drive
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts

Leeann’s Pick: Little Big Town

Aside from Diamond Rio (who are likely past their prime at this point), I’m not too crazy about any of the nominees in this category. there is, however, a clear choice of who I think is most deserving of this award.

Little Big Town is clearly a group. When one listens to them sing, each of their voices can be heard as they support each other to create impressive harmonies. All too often, groups are comprised of what sounds like a front person with background singers who could easily be interchanged. With Little Big Town, it is clear that they are, indeed, a vocal group.

Kevin’s Pick: Little Big Town

They’ve had a lower profile this year, but their most recent album deserved more attention than it received. What’s notable is that they actually sound like a vocal group, with distinct harmonies and a signature sound – which is basically what Leeann already said, and a lot more articulately than me.

Top Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Halfway to Hazard
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland

Kevin’s Pick: Sugarland

Even though their sophomore album wasn’t quite as good as their debut, the powerhouse single “Stay” was a firm reminder that the talent here runs deep. They’re certainly the most successful duo to hit the scene since Brooks & Dunn, and Nettles is the most compelling female vocalist on the radio these days, even if she’s not the most technically proficient. I hope they win their first of many.

Leeann’s Pick: Sugarland

Like Vocal Group, I’m not a personal fan of any of these duos. Furthermore, it is difficult for me to even make a choice regarding this category. Sugarland’s talent cannot be denied here though. Jennifer Nettles has a powerful voice and Christian Bush’s voice isn’t half bad either. Moreover, their songs have enjoyed the most success in the past year.

Top New Male Vocalist

  • Luke Bryan
  • Jack Ingram
  • Jake Owen

Leeann’s Pick: Jake Owen

To me, the clear winner is Jake Owen. While he has only released three songs thus far, the singer of “Startin’ With Me” has a very promising vocal talent that will surely succeed if the right songs are chosen.

Kevin’s Pick: Jack Ingram

I’m not particularly keen on any of these guys, so my preference is Jack Ingram. I just get a kick out of artists who’ve been on the scene for a long time winning new artist awards. It’s a disconnect that never fails to amuse me.

Top New Female Vocalist

  • Sarah Buxton
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

Kevin’s Pick: Sarah Buxton

She’s the only singer here that I like to hear sing, so Sarah Buxton is my choice. I saw her at a songwriter’s night and her voice had even more character than it has on record. I think it’s funny that Pickler and Swift were both nominated last year. More new artist award comedy.

Leeann’s Pick: Sarah Buxton

Sarah Buxton hasn’t exactly burst onto the country music radio scene yet, but her voice has a uniqueness that the other two nominees lack. It’s unlikely that she will win this award, but it would be nice to see someone with her intriguing voice receive some industry praise.

Out of the two nominees who are more likely to win, however, Kellie Pickler clearly has the better voice, though the less interesting songs, in my opinion.

Top New Duo or Vocal Group

  • Carolina Rain
  • Lady Antebellum
  • The Wreckers

Leeann’s Pick: No preference

Since The Wreckers have disbanded, I must discount their nomination. Otherwise, I would probably choose them to win this award. I wish I could, because I couldn’t care less if either of the other nominees win it.

Kevin’s Pick: Lady Antebellum

They have a pretty cool sound. It’s nothing to get too excited about, and it borrows heavily from Little Big Town, but at least it’s decent to listen to.

Album of the Year

  • Rodney Atkins, If You’re Going Through Hell
  • Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates
  • Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift

Kevin’s Pick: Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

It’s not even close for me. Lambert’s album sounds just as good as it did upon release last year, perhaps even better. Am I the only one who headbangs in the shower to “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Guilty in Here?”

Leeann’s Pick: Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I resoundingly choose Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for this award. I love this album. After countless repeated listens, I still love it. What do I love so much about it?: The innovative production, the strong and twangy vocals and the well crafted songs that were mostly written by Lambert’s own pen.

Single of the Year

  • “Don’t Blink” – Kenny Chesney
  • “Famous in a Small Town” – Miranda Lambert
  • “Lost in This Moment” – Big & Rich
  • “Stay” – Sugarland
  • “Watching Airplanes” – Gary Allan

Leeann’s Pick: “Famous in a Small Town” – Miranda Lambert

Both “Stay” and “Famous In A Small Town” are strong contenders for this award. “Stay” is very notable for its stripped down production, not to mention Nettles’ fiery vocals.

“Famous In A Small Town” is the single that I hope will win, however. With fondness, Lambert cleverly sings about how “everybody dies famous in a small town.” The production with the catchy guitar pattern, harmonica solo and well placed drums help to create the rootsy message that the song conveys.

Kevin’s Pick: “Stay” – Sugarland

I love the bare-boned intimacy of this single. Even more, I love the fact that a song that could’ve been a cult fan favorite became a career record instead. I like all of these songs, but this is the only one I think will become a classic.

Song of the Year

  • “Don’t Blink” – writers: Casey Beathard, Chris Wallin; artist: Kenny Chesney.
  • “Lost in This Moment” – writers: Keith Anderson, Rodney Clawson, John Rich; artist: Big & Rich.
  • “Moments” – writers: Dave Berg, Annie Tate, Sam Tate; artist: Emerson Drive.
  • “Stay” – writer: Jennifer Nettles; artist: Sugarland.
  • “Watching You” – writers: Rodney Atkins, Steve Dean, Brian White; artist: Rodney Atkins.

Kevin’s Pick: “Moments” – writers: Dave Berg, Annie Tate, Sam Tate; artist: Emerson Drive.

It’s a tough call for me, since I love “Stay” as much as I love “Moments.” But I think judging solely on the song, “Moments” has the edge. A beautiful morality tale, good enough to get an independent record by an act that had been written off too quickly to the top of the charts.

Leeann’s Pick: “”Stay” – writer: Jennifer Nettles; artist: Sugarland.

If it’s ever possible for a song to be sung with both power and vulnerability, Jennifer Nettles is able to accomplish both with her well crafted song, “Stay.” For this reason, “Stay” should be recognized as the song of the year.

Video of the Year

  • “Don’t Blink” – Kenny Chesney
  • “Lost in This Moment” – Big & Rich
  • “Online” – Brad Paisley
  • “Stay” – Sugarland
  • “Watching You” – Rodney Atkins

Leeann’s Pick: “Online” – Brad Paisley

For Brad Paisley, videos are obviously very important. When he does a video, there is certainly a lot of effort put into it. His video for”Online” is the most entertaining video of the nominees, which is what I, ultimately, enjoy in a video.

Kevin’s Pick: “Stay” – Sugarland

I’ve commented already on the intimacy of this performance, and this video clip managed to accent that intimacy rather than get in the way of it. For me, it’s impossible to look away when this video is on, it’s so riveting.

Vocal Event of the Year

  • “Because of You” – Reba McEntire & Kelly Clarkson
  • “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” – Tracy Lawrence with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw
  • “Shiftwork” – Kenny Chesney & George Strait
  • “‘Til We Ain’t Strangers Anymore” – Bon Jovi & LeAnn Rimes
  • “What You Give Away” – Vince Gill with Sheryl Crow

Leeann’s Pick: “What You Give Away” – Vince Gill with Sheryl Crow

People who have read my comments and blog posts since I’ve joined this world of blogging likely can’t help but notice my infatuation with Vince Gill. As I’ve maintained many times before, it’s not a creepy infatuation, it’s simply a genuine respect and admiration of his music and the classy gentleman that he mostly appears to be.

So, it should come as no surprise when I disclose that I choose his vocal performance with Sheryl Crow to win this award. As I’m rooting for Miranda Lambert, I’m rooting just a little louder for Vince. With its simple lyrics, this song has a noteworthy message that Vince is more than qualified to sing about. Moreover, Sheryl Crows soulful vocals elevate an already spiritual experience to something worthy of gospel choirs.

Kevin’s Pick: “What You Give Away” – Vince Gill with Sheryl Crow

No contest. “What You Give Away” is the only record of the five that doesn’t feel like a marketing gimmick. This is two artists coming together naturally, in service of the song.


  1. First off, no Kevin you’re not the only one who head bangs to “Gunpowder & Lead” in the shower.

    Now I just want to quickly note my picks in each category:
    Ent: Keith U.
    Male: Keith U.
    Female: LeAnn R.
    VG: Little Big Town
    Duo: Sugarland
    NMale: Jack Ingram
    NFemale: Sarah Buxton (but we all know that this won’t happen.)
    NVG: Carolina Rain
    Album: Miranda L.
    Single – Stay
    Song: Moments
    Vocal Event: What You Give Away

  2. Carrie deserves female vocalist- but I agree that maybe next year- leanne rimes deserves a shot. Carrie had a much better year then leanne this time around though- and should definetly get the award this year. Both leanne and carrie are outstanding vocalists, as is martina. Miranda had a good album but not as good a year as carrie by far– and she is not the vocalist that either carrie or leanne or martina are. However- I like miranda’s spunk and she is talented. Compared to taylor swift— miranda lambert is Celeine dion…..because taylor is the worst vocalist in all of country music- and should never have even been nominated. She cannot hold a note if her life depended on it. Talk about over-rated!

  3. My picks:
    Entertainer : Brad Paisley
    Male: Brad Paisley
    Female: Carrie Underwood
    Vocal Group: Little Big Town (very week category this year)
    Duo: Sugarland (I think Sugarland will win but this is really a solo act – any half decent male singer could sub in this duo without anyone noticing the difference)
    New Male: Jake Owen (Jack Ingram should not be eligible)
    New Female: Kelly Pickler (Swift will win but she’s a poor vocalist)
    New Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum (I think they will succeed bigtime – eventually but for this year , this is a very weak category)
    Album: I own all of these albums. Paisley’s 5th Gear is easily the best
    Single – Stay
    Song: Moments
    Video: “Online”
    Vocal Event: who cares – the Tracy Lawrence song is probably the best of this bunch but Tracy’s solo version (the “official: single release) was better that the group effort

  4. My purely subjective picks:
    Entertainer: Keith Urban (I saw Keith earlier in the year and thought he was great. He knows how to work a crowd. My favorite sign: “I will babysit for free!” However, I will see Brad later this summer and may change my mind.)
    Male: Brad Paisley
    Female: Miranda Lambert (who I prefer to listen to)
    Vocal Group: No preference (I like the Eagles but I don’t feel they are country. I saw them in concert last year…definitely not a country concert)
    Duo: Not a fan of any
    New Male: Jack Ingram
    New Female: Sarah Buxton
    New Vocal Group: I wish the Wreckers were still around, they could have done some interesting things. Not a fan of the other two.
    Album: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
    Single: Famous in a Small Town (one of my favorite country songs in recent years)
    Song: Overall, could there be a cheesier list of songs? None for me.
    Video: Stay. I didn’t like the song, but the video fit really well. Brad gets an A for effort too, but I can’t stand the song.
    Vocal Event: Vince and Sheryl, although Leann and Jon aren’t bad…

  5. All right…

    Entertainer: I’m fine with either Paisley or Urban winning this.
    Female Vocalist: Lambert’s making the best music of the group by a wide margin, and I think the “vocalist” part of the tag is undone this year by Swift’s nomination. Rimes would also be a worthy winner.
    Male Vocalist: Urban. Dierks Bentley, Gary Allan, and Josh Turner should’ve all been nominted.
    Vocal Group: Little Big Town, almost entirely by default.
    Vocal Duo: Sugarland, though I agree with Paul that they’re increasingly just Jennifer Nettles’ solo vehicle.
    Album: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in a walk.
    Single: “Famous in a Small Town.”
    Song: “Stay.”
    New Male: Pass.
    New Female: Pass.
    New Group: Lady Antebellum, I suppose.
    Video: “Stay”
    Event: Gill & Crow. Or anything but “Because of You,” really.

  6. ENTERTAINER: Keith Urban hands down should win it….Brad is a very close second
    FEMALE VOCALIST:Carrie for the win…I wouldn’t mind at all if she lost to Miranda though
    MALE VOCALIST: Keith Urban….but I wouldn’t be disappointed with Brad
    VOCAL GROUP: Little Big Town….and I do love their harmonies
    VOCAL DUO: Sugarland….although you could change out the male 30 times and no one would know
    ALBUM: Crazy Ex Girlfriend…but I have a sneaking suspicion they might give it to Taylor because of sales
    SINGLE: “Stay”…but Rodney may pull one here.
    SONG: “Stay” its just a great song
    NEW MALE: Jake Owen….great guy, great voice
    NEW FEMALE: Taylor will win this one….i prefer Sarah’s voice though
    NEW GROUP: Lady A
    VIDEO: Brad is great with video’s and this one is his to lose
    EVENT: Vince Gill, Vinve Gill, Vince Gill….I love this guy Sheryl Crow is ok too :)

  7. my picks
    entertainer: keith urban- the fan voted thing scares me
    male vocalist: keith urban. it would be cool to see george strait also
    female vocalist: carrie underwood. i think miranda lambert made a better second cd, but carrie underwood is a better vocalist.
    vocal group: little big town.
    duo: sugarland. i can’t get enough of their sound
    new male: jack ingram. not one of my favorites or anything, but he’s pretty good
    new female: sarah buxton. it’s too bad she won’t actually win this, but hopefully it will help her label realize they should put her cd out
    new vocal group: i like the wreckers the best, but since their not a duo anymore i would have to go with lady antebellum
    album: “crazy ex-girlfriend” i like all of the albums except for kenny’s, but this is incredible
    single: “watching airplanes” i wish gary allan was nominated for more awards tha this, but at least it’s something
    song: “moments” this song still hits me even a year after it came out
    video: “online”. watching you was cute too.
    vocal event: “what you give away”- great message to a great song

  8. Although I know Sugarland sold way more records, I feel like Montgomery Gentry gets overlooked too easily when awards time comes around. They’ve consistently put out top 5 singles for the past 6-7 years and bring a unique sound/attitude to country music. I can’t believe with all their success, great rocking music, and fun concerts that they have been pushed to the side by Brooks & Dunn (who have slipped in terms of radio success & great songs) all this time.

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