44th Annual ACM Awards Projections


On Wednesday, February 11, the Academy of Country Music will unveil the nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony. Last year, the usual suspects prevailed. Brad and Carrie repeated in the Vocalist categories, Brooks & Dunn claimed their 14th Vocal Duo prize and Kenny Chesney earned his fourth consecutive Entertainer of the Year award. As a prelude to the nominations announcement, here’s my projected slate for this year’s ceremony. (Favorites are in bold.)

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Sugarland
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

Prognosis: The “no girls allowed” edict will likely be lifted.  Underwood is the genre’s most prominent ambassador, and Sugarland’s rise to the high ranks has both commercial and critical support.

Note of interest: “The winner shall be determined by a combination of votes from the membership of the ACM and viewer voting.”

Top Male Vocalist

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Prognosis: This category suffers from a lack of fresh blood. Why? A whole gaggle of good ol’ boys (Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner, Blake Shelton, among others) have yet to rise to the occasion.  Keith is an ACM favorite (seven wins), and he’ll surpass that other Keith (Urban) for a nomination.

Top Female Vocalist

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack

Prognosis: Underwood is the early favorite to claim her third crown, with Lambert riding hard on her heels. Women over 40 are roadkill in country music, so the veteran nods for McBride and Womack will be a victory in and of themselves.

Top Vocal Duo

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Big & Rich
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Sugarland

Prognosis: The welcome debut of Joey + Rory boosts a normally-bland category. Sugarland was stunned by Brooks & Dunn last spring, but bet your last poker chips that Jennifer and Kristian emerge as the new champions.

Top Vocal Group

  • Emerson Drive
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Prognosis: Zac Brown Band added a little extra zip to country playlists in the last twelve months, but this is a race between perennial winners Rascal Flatts and the young upstarts of Lady Antebellum.

Top New Female Vocalist

  • Julianne Hough
  • Crystal Shawanda
  • Ashton Shepherd

Top New Male Vocalist

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • James Otto

Top New Vocal Group/Duo

  • Joey + Rory
  • The Lost Trailers
  • Zac Brown Band

Prognosis: The “best new artist” awards are difficult to predict, with supposed veterans springing from the woodwork to earn nominations. For example, last year’s Top New Male Vocalist, Jack Ingram, first released an album in 1992. Lady Antebellum, who hadn’t released their first album until April 2008, defeated a defunct duo, The Wreckers, to nab the New Vocal Duo/Group award.

This year’s three recipients (one each from the Male, Female and Duo/Group categories) will be voted on by both the academy and the general public, as noted in last week’s news item regarding the questionable voting criteria of the ACM. Even with the recent spate of pop-goes-country singers, they won’t be welcome on these lists. Darius Rucker, Jessica Simpson and Jewel are all ineligible due to their previous “prominence” (defined by the ACM as “artists who have sold 500,000+ albums of a previously released album”). The same rule eliminates former Trick Pony frontwoman, Heidi Newfield, but  a 2007 ACM Song of the Year winner Jamey Johnson (“Give It Away”) is eligible.

Album of the Year

  • Fearless, Taylor Swift
  • Good Time, Alan Jackson
  • Love on the Inside, Sugarland
  • Lucky Old Sun, Kenny Chesney
  • Troubadour, George Strait

Prognosis: The potential field is limited with only ten possible choices, so the veterans should triumph over newcomers such as James Otto and Lady A in order to score nominations. Sugarland’s set is the best harmony of commercial success and critical acclaim.

Single of the Year

  • “I Saw God Today,” George Strait
  • “In Color,” Jamey Johnson
  • “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood
  • “Gunpowder and Lead,” Miranda Lambert
  • “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Trace Adkins

Song of the Year

  • “I Saw God Today,” George Strait
  • “In Color,” Jamey Johnson
  • “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood
  • “Waitin’ on a Woman,” Brad Paisley
  • “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Trace Adkins

Prognosis: Jesus takes the wheel often at country awards shows, so George’s song of spiritual rebirth is a shoo-in nominee. Lambert’s lambast at an abusive man will follow its CMA Single nod, but Paisley’s ballad of everlasting love will supplant it in the Song category.  The Single/Song awards are a chance to honor Johnson for creating some much-needed credibility for country music in the past year.

Video of the Year

  • “Good Time,” Alan Jackson
  • “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood
  • “Love Story,” Taylor Swift
  • “Troubadour,” George Strait
  • “Waitin’ on a Woman,” Brad Paisley

Prognosis: George Strait releases videos so rarely that he’s bound to be nominated for his melancholic clip. Jackson’s “Good Time” showcased some fancy footwork, but Andy Griffith’s cameo is pure camera magic and should allow Paisley to fend off the field.

Vocal Event of the Year

  • “Another Try,” Josh Turner/Trisha Yearwood
  • “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” Brooks & Dunn/Reba McEntire
  • “Every Other Weekend,” Reba McEntire/Kenny Chesney
  • “Life in a Northern Town,” Sugarland/Little Big Town/Jake Owen
  • “Start a Band,” Brad Paisley/Keith Urban

Prognosis: Two of the finest country singers (Turner/Yearwood) compete against two of the greatest entertainers (Paisley/Urban).


  1. Excellent job Blake. There are only two winning prognoses I’m unsure about. The first is Sugarland for Album of the Year. Do you think the ACMs are ready to give it to them over Strait?

    Second, I agree that Carrie will be nominated for EOTY. Same for Sugarland. However, if the fans are voting, I’m not so sure that Paisley will win. He might have any other year, but he probably has the smallest fan base out of that entire group.

  2. ACM voters have traditionally rewarded the highest-selling artists, even moreso than the commercial-minded Grammys and CMAs. Strait’s album is now 2-for-2 in its quest for the triple crown, but Love on the Inside has sold like gangbusters and Sugarland has such a heightened profile now that I give them the slight edge.

    The ACM criteria shows that industry voters and fan participation determine the winner, but nobody knows what formula is used to select the winner. I thought Carrie deserved a nod at the CMA, but I figure she’ll finally break into the category this time. Paisley’s career, from the live shows to the recorded music to the general industry goodwill, is hitting on all cylinders right now.

  3. I think if fans are voting along with the industry then Carrie Underwood is a shoo-in for the Entertainer crowd. This will also help people like Zac Brown Band win the Best new band award. I could make a big case that Eli Young Band deserve the slot more than The Lost Trailers.

  4. If you think the ACMs love Toby so much more than Keith Uban…then why didn’t you put Toby in the Entertainer category and take out Keith? But I hope you’re wrong on this prediction. Keith Urban is my pick in both categories.

  5. That’s a good question, Gail. It’s hard to tell what ACM voters will take into consideration, but Toby Keith had more radio airplay this year and sold a decent amount of albums, so I think he has a good shot at the Male Vocalist race. Urban didn’t perform quite as well on the charts, but his touring exploits seem to garner more ink and he’s got a higher profile within the genre at this point. It’s splitting hairs, so I’m just going on gut reaction here. Heck, George Strait or Alan Jackson could slip into that last slot, too.

  6. Where has Tim McGraw gone from all these awards shows, he is a very consistant, tors are big, and his singles usually tend to go to the top.

  7. i complete agree with the projection except well single of the year, i think Just A Dream has a fair shot at winning, and i really hope carri eis nominated in EOTY. Sugarland will be a great winner for album of the year

  8. “I Saw God Today” won the CMA for Single of the Year, so I suppose that’s the favorite, but it’s a close race.

    Tim McGraw had a good run in the late ’90s/early ’00s, but the whole mess with Curb Records has clouded his career. You’re right, vp, he’s generally a consistent artist. After a certain point, I think these awards shows move on to the new crop of artists.

  9. I’m hoping that Those nominees for Entertainer are correct with either, Urban, Paisley, or Underwood winning.

    I think Lady Antebellum should win Group over Rascal Flatts…

    Song and Single I think should got to “Just A Dream”.

  10. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire ballot look just like this.

    The Johnson nods are entirely plausible, though I suspect he’ll have an even wider impact on the CMA ballot this fall. You might as well just give him the Horizon Award/New Artist trophy now.

  11. I think “Just A Dream” will win in its categories…i agree with EOTY nominees but Carrie or Kenny winning… and I think Lost Trailers is more likely to be nominated for group than ZBB…I don’t think “Gunpowder & Lead” will be nominated for single..maybe “All Summer Long” or “Chicken Fried” instead…I also don’t really think “You’re Gonna Miss This” will be nominated for song…”Troubador” instead…

  12. Okay, nevermind about “Troubador” for song…since George will already be in that category for “I Saw God Today”….but I still don’t think “You’re Gonna Miss This” will be nominated for some reason…

  13. Great picks! Agree with all! I think you guys are getting better and better at your predictions. Bravo to you! lol

    I really hope Carrie gets that Entertainer of the Year nomination. She was the 5th top selling country tour this year, beating Sugarland for the biggest gross for a female.. so I think she deserves a nomination at least. I don’t care if she wins yet, but I want to see her nominated.

    I hope Ashton Shephard wins Best New Artist, hands down.

  14. I agree…Ashton Shephard deserves the award for new artist (if not her then Jamey Johnson). Is Kellie Pickler eligible again even though she was nominated last year?? If so, then I think she will win it based on the fact that this award is going to be fan-voted this year.

  15. Terrific analysis, Blake. This looks just about right-on. My thoughts:

    1) Capitol has good clout and killer marketing, so don’t be surprised if Luke Bryan nabs one of the New Male spots again – probably Houser’s, though none are sure bets.

    2) I hope Joey + Rory do manage to break into Top Duo, but I have doubts about their label’s strength so I don’t know. Ditto for New Group/Duo – I think Eli Young Band has a good chance of displacing J + R there.

    3) I genuinely hope Julianne Hough is not the gal who breaks through among the New Female pool. I vote that we organize a movement here at CU to put Ashton Shepherd on top (she did have two relatively high-peaking singles, which Hough can’t claim). But that’s just me and my bias. A Best New Artist pool of her, Johnson and Zac Brown Band or Joey + Rory would be amazing.

  16. Oh, and Jake Owen. Jake Owen could grab another New Male nod with the totally lame “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” currently riding the charts and all.

  17. Another addendum: the Trailers nod for New Group looks almost inevitable since “How ‘Bout You Don’t” is somehow performing decently at radio.

  18. After reading the whole thing that would be a terrific nom list. I think Kenny’s run is well due over and any of the other for EOTY are well deserving.

    King George needs to step down, it is almost like they have to give him every award he is nominated for because of how long he has been at it, but the God songs are appealing to country voter’s.

    Time for B&D to move on out and let in Sugarland, it was definitely their year for duos.

    The only one I disagree is Fearless for AOTY, it just came out, and just because in has sold millions so fast and she wrote everything on it does not make it a good album and worthy, not quit sure who would replace it. I’ll get back on that one.

  19. Interesting list! I’m hoping your predictions for Entertainer are correct, I think those five artists are the cream of the crop when it comes to today’s country music. I would love to see anyone but Chesney take home the award. A Carrie nomination would be amazing as well, but, personally, I’m not going to hold my breath.

    The New Artist categories I think are spot on, except I think Chuck Wicks might slip in where Randy Houser is. But, with this being fan voted and all this year, I think it’s Julianne’s to lose. I, as some of you know, love Julianne and I would not be disappointed with her winning. Plus, I think she has the biggest fanbase out of the new artists.

    As far as album, I’m hoping Strait can pull off the triple crown, but I agree Sugarland has a good chance at stealing his thunder. I personally would place my vote for Sugarland’s Love on the Inside because I think it’s a better album artistically, and it’s sold really well! But I’d be happy with Strait.

    I also see “Just a Dream” taking the awards for Single and Song. I think the ACM’s love the whole military/war songs and this has been one of the best in recent years. I can see Carrie having a big night!

    Question: Is Underwood’s Carnival Ride eligible for Album this year??

  20. @Aaron: Carnival Ride. That’s actually a very interesting question. It was released in October 2007, which is last year’s eligibility period, but it wasn’t nominated for ACM Album of the Year. By definition of the rules, I guess Underwood could be nominated this year. That’s a huge loophole in the rules (Do you hear me, ACM?), but one that Carnival Ride could sneak through.

    Houser seems to have a little more pub with the Johnson connection and the Letterman appearance, but there about seven guys who could all fit in to New Male.

    @vp: For the most part, the ACMs love, love, love big numbers, which is why I think Swift will snag a nod.

    @Dan: It’s important to remember that a good chunk of the ACM voters come from the radio community. Toby Keith is a popular guy there. I’m not saying he’s a definite nominee, but I can see how he could sneak past Urban. Toby was nommed two years ago in a semi-off year for him (beating Bentley and Josh Turner for a nod, among others). Joey + Rory are more recognizable to that audience, too, which is why they squeak by Eli.

  21. Carrie will get a nomination for EOTY, finally. I mean, what else could she do to get noticed. Eight number one songs in a row, going on 9, sold over 11 million cds so far worldwide with two cds, has won just about every award imaginable, had a very successful headlining tour, inducted into the Opry at the yound age of 25. Hello Hellen. Did anyone see her performance at the grammys. If fan voting is involved, she just might win this one.

  22. All I knows is, EYB has a higher-charting single (“Always the Love Songs”) and is on a more mainstream label (Universal South). I seem to remember reading that J+R had made quite a radio tour, so you could be right, but I’d be surprised to see them get in over EYB. Though like you and Matt, I’d sooner just have ’em both in and leave out the Trailers.

  23. Editing my last comment: Carnival Ride did not exceed or meet its highest charting position (#1 in November 2007) during 2008, so it is ineligible unless the ACM is bendy about the rules.

  24. I think an Entertainer of the Year nomination for Carrie is premature at this point. Her live performances leave a lot to be desired — and that includes the performance on the Grammys the other night.

  25. I really don’t think keith urban will be shut out of the male vocalist Award.

    I would love to see Toby get a nom, but i don’t think Urban will be the one to fall to it. I’d be surprised if he was.

  26. Ugh.. Hello! Rascal Flatts should definietly be nominated for Entertainer of the year. They had the 2nd highest grossing country tour next to Chesney last year. They more than deserve it. Sugarland has had only one headlining tour and they are still opening up for people.. I don’t they could sell out Madison Square Garden like the Flatts… As for, Underwood, I think she is great but does not deserve to the EOTY category yet.

  27. Razor X says:
    February 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    I think an Entertainer of the Year nomination for Carrie is premature at this point. Her live performances leave a lot to be desired — and that includes the performance on the Grammys the other night.

    Well that’s YOUR opinion Razor. Carrie puts on one helluva show and she has done just about everything you can to get an EOTY nom and that’s why she just received one!


  28. How did Underwood get a nod for Album of the year? Blake you said yourself it’s was ineligible…… So basically ACM bent the rules for Underwood! What the heck is going on here???

    “Editing my last comment: Carnival Ride did not exceed or meet its highest charting position (#1 in November 2007) during 2008, so it is ineligible unless the ACM is bendy about the rules.”

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