Producing the CMAs

This is a guest contribution by regular commenter, Michael Hawkins, who posts as Highwayman3.

CMAThe movies have the Oscars, the world of music has the Grammys, and that world subdivided into the country genre has the CM’s—the annual extravaganza that we fans look forward to every year. We see our favorites perform, win awards and lose with smiling gracious faces, or not [insert the inevitable Faith Hill reference here]. Everyone picks their favorites in each category as to who they’d like to win. But what about the show itself, the backdrop for which these prestigious awards are presented?

Recently, there have been posts at both The 9513 and on this site where people have been weighing in on their favorite moments from these awards. It occurred to me that none of those moments have happened in the last few years. The awards have slid into mediocrity, which is a fitting representation of the current state of country music. I understand producing these awards must be tough because you have to be everything to everyone, and acknowledge the traditional country, the Disney country, the old and new alike, and bring in people who don’t belong for the sake of ratings.

What’s wrong with the show?

The awards themselves seem like an after thought, filler in between all the endless performances. The main suspense isn’t who wins, but rather, how many performances the producers can fit in 3 hours. Also, it’s become an award show that is ashamed of its roots, barely mentioning who is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Any artist with the slightest sign of a wrinkle, regardless of their legend status is shunned and hidden in the audience next to seat fillers and radio contest winners. It’s an award show with self esteem issues, not cool enough to stand on its own. You can bet the main attraction used to promote this year’s show will be a non-country performer like Kid Rock, The Eagles of last year, and Jamie Foxx of two years ago.

What can be done?

Well, the first order of business would be for the Sommet Center to take out a one day restraining order from Miley Cyrus on November 11, 2009, or better yet, the whole Cyrus family, Billy Ray, Noah, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Yes, she’ll bring in ratings, but we’ve gotten along fine without her for 40 plus years.

The CMA’s need to take a cue from  the Grammy awards, or even the American Idol finale. There are so many surprises, legends, moving moments, coming at you, left right and center, you don’t know what’s coming next, all you know is you’re in for the ride, you’re loving every second and you’re talking about it the next day. Last year, the biggest surprise was Shania Twain presenting Entertainer of the Year, which she has done at least 3 times before, and to those who keep up on country news, it was hardly a surprise at all.

What can possibly be done to make the night more entertaining?

How about taking a cue from this yearis Academy Awards and only announce a handful of performers, leaving the rest a mystery? Don’t tell us who and what everyone’s performing, which leaves more room for surprises. Also, like the Oscars, don’t announce who is presenting, and before each award have a mini-montage of past winners. Then at the end, the curtain opens and a surprise past winner comes out and shares insights on their winning experience. Instead of the otherwise cheesy dialogue or weird presenter pairings, it would make more sense if they just brought out Trisha Yearwood for Female Vocalist, Vince for Male, The Judds for Duo, Alabama forGroup, and hand it off to the winner like an Olympic torch or rite of passage. This way of thinking would work out great for the Entertainer of the Year category, in bringing out past winners, Roy Clark, and Barbara Mandrell, who also happen to be this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I would prefer it if it went back to how it used to be with a taped bio and artists performing a medley of hits. But even that is too much to ask. If they are going to cut it out entirely, the least they could do is show 3 separate 30-60 second bios of each of the inductees at different times as they are going to commercial and have them wave from the audience. Or, from the paragraph above, show a taped piece just before Barbara and Roy present Entertainer.

The most boring parts of the show are seeing full performances from all the mundane hits of the past year. Was it necessary for Darius Rucker to perform “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” last year when he wasn’t nominated? Yes, it’s necessary for the biggest hits to be performed, but does every top 5 hit of the past year have to be sung? Instead, encourage them to sing unique songs, like Alan Jackson in 2005 performing, “Wonderful Tonight”, songs you’ll actually remember more than 5 minutes after they are performed. Another idea, which the Grammys have down pat, is pairing people up. Think of the Al Green, Keith Urban, Justin Timberlake and Boys 2 Men grouping of earlier this year. For the CMA’s, this would be a perfect year to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the hat act boom of 89. Why not bring out Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, and Travis Tritt for a small medley?

Instead of each of the new artist nominees performing their full songs – do we really want to see Julianne Hough performing a full version of her song this year? –  it would be great if they stole from the ACM’s all-star opener this year, and did the same thing with the 5 nominees. Lady Antebellum can be the ring leader like Brooks & Dunn were at the ACMs, and they all can perform a small portion of their hits. To wrap it up, Lady Antebellum can present the award. This will allow more time for the Collaboration and Video of the year awards to be back on the telecast.

If you ran the CMAs, thinking creatively but realistically, which special moments would you create that could go down in history and make country’s biggest night more fun to watch? How would you make George Strait’s performance less predictable? And how would you measure that Miley restraining order? In inches, feet, yards, or miles?


  1. ok highwayman3, you are bang on target with your assessment.
    i have a suggestion, but this is not realistic.
    if you want to create on of the most memorable moments, here is what you do.
    you give a lifetime achievement award to the dixie chicks and hand it to them LIVE during the ceremony.
    tthis could be a risk, because lots of people could turn the channel,
    but it could the most talked about moment in CMA history

  2. Many good points Michael, well thought out article. But I didn’t have a problem with the Eagles appearing on the CMAs, and don’t feel they should be lumped in with Kid Rock and Jaime Foxx as gimmicks or distractions.

    After all, Country artists like Trisha Yearwood, Clint Black and Travis Tritt participated in the Eagles tribute album “Common Thread” for a reason. I actually thought the Eagles performance of “How Long” was one of the most genuinely Country things about that particular show, by comparison anyway.

  3. I agree with Steve about the Eagles. The only great performances on last year’s show were by Charles Kelley of Lady A, Jennifer Nettles and the Eagles. Strait, Chesney and Jackson were uninspiring to be kind.

  4. I like the gist of the commentary. I have older CMA Awards shows on tape ( from the 70s and early 80s). The CMA needs to go back and look at itsown shows and see the huge difference there is now and realize that what exists now is not really an awards show. It is performances with an award thrown in now and then. And, keep it country.

    One problem the would have in bringing back past winners to do things is that there might not be enough of them willing to participate. Do not fool yourselves to think that these artists would jump at the chance to participate.

    Until things change with the Awards show, I will not be watching. I have not for years now. I used to tune in to see who went into the HOF but since they started doing this early there was no need to tune in for that. I was really dumb, I thought, to announce the new inductees early and then havethem speak during the show. Then they went to no speaking and they get a camera shot in he audience during the show. SHould have gone to announcing the new inductees for the first time on the show. But, I do realize there is a probably in getting them to the show without telling them in advance. The artists that are HOF caliber stopped attending the awards show years ago. They used to tell the top five that they were in the top 5 so the new inductees would be in the audience.

    Anyhow, until it is a country awards show again, I will not be watching.

  5. It’s sadly ironic that two artists (Clark and Mandrell) who helped bring country music to the medium of television in such a big way during their careers will not get any real “TV time” in honor of their H of F inductions.

  6. I personally loved what the Oscars did last year in bringing past winners back to acknowledge each of the nominees. It would be amazing to see the CMA’s do something like that. Also, I’m kind of a fan of the New Artist nominees getting a chance to perform a full song. I think too often than not, most awards shows only allow them to sing shortened versions of their songs (if I remember correctly, the CMA used to do that in the past).

    I agree that they should only announce a few performances and keep the rest a secret…just to allow some suspense during the show and to make people tune in. I also agree that the entire Cyrus family needs to not be invited to the show because they have no business being there…I mean do we really need to hear another off-key performance of “The Climb?” I don’t think so.

    I hate to admit but I’m a fan of the CMA show and I look forward to it every year, maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the newer country and I enjoy most of the artists that get to perform and who are nominated…but that’s just me!

  7. The only suggestion I could make (and it probably wouldn’t be followed) is if the acts that appear on the CMAs would knock that arena-rock schtick off.

  8. Jewels – I would love to see old CMA Awards shows from the 70s and 80s. I wish I had them on tape! My earliest recollection is early 90s, but I’ve also gone back and seen clips of previous years.

    Aaron – I thought the past winners presenting at the Oscars this year was fabulous and respectful. It adds an element of depth to the show, and I think also adds an element of depth to the award.

  9. 2009 CMA Show LIVE from the OPRY HOUSE in Nashville Tennessee!!!….And Here’s What You’ll See…

    Brooks and Dunn open the show with a rousing medley of their hits finishing with their latest smash “Indian Summer”. Audience gives them a well deserved standing O.

    Loretta Lynn and Vince Gill present the first award of the night for Vocal Duo…Brooks and Dunn win it.

    Tim McGraw does “It’s a Business Doing Pleasure With You”

    Kellie Pickler and Trace Adkins present single of the year.

    Dierks Bentley performs

    Wynonna and Naomi present song of the year

    Alan Jackson sings

    Darius Rucker performs

    Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert present video

    Reba McEntire sings

    Billy Currington sings

    Terri Clark and Kenny Rogers set up the Hall of Fame segment. Mandrell boo-hoos from the audience (J.K Babs…I like you…)

    Crystal Gayle and Martina McBride present Male vocalist

    Lynn Anderson and Charlie Pride present Horizon Award. No one knows what Lynn is talking about, but they are happy to see her just the same.

    Lee Ann Womack sings duet with Jamey Johnson – then present George Jones with the “Country Music Honors” award – Dolly won it back in ’93.

    Lady Antebellum perform

    Taylor Swift sings

    Keith Urban and Tim McGraw present Female vocalist

    Toby Keith sings

    Brad Paisley sings then presents musician

    Tanya Tucker and Glen Campbell present Album of the year to Jamey Johnson

    Rascal Flatts perform

    Willie Nelson and Carrie Underwood present Vocal Event

    Zac Brown Band performs

    Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton belt out “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonite” and then present Entertainer of the Year.


    The CMA telecast ranks #1 for the week, and becomes the most talked about awards in years

    Dolly and Garth go on to cut a duets album which quickly sells 4 million units

    Jeannie Seely and Jan Howard – who have been holding Billy Ray and Miley captive in a dressing room, let them go after the show has signed off.

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