Picking the CMA Nominees: Male Vocalist of the Year

If turnover has been slow in the Entertainer category, it’s been nothing less than glacial in the Male Vocalist race.  Over the past ten years, only eleven men have received nominations.  Four of those eleven – Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Darius Rucker, and Josh Turner – have been nominated only once.

Now, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw were regularly invited to the party in the first half of the last decade, with four and three nominations, respectively. But the race has essentially been dominated by the same five men: Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban, who combine for forty nominations in just one decade.

The recent history has been pretty boring. After two consecutive wins by Alan Jackson, we’ve had three consecutive wins each by Keith Urban and reigning champ Brad Paisley.

Will there be a new winner this year, or even a new nominee? Should there be?

Let’s take a look at last year’s race:


  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Darius Rucker was the new face to enter the race last year. No brand new nominee has been nominated again in this category since Keith Urban earned his first nomination in 2004. He’s been in the race ever since.  I’d say Rucker’s close to a lock, along with Paisley. But just like in the Entertainer race, a case could be made for a decent shake-up, especially some of this category’s veteran acts have dipped at radio and retail.

Here’s who I would nominate this year. Share your picks in the comments:

Jason Aldean

Anybody else notice that this guy’s outselling the rest of the male solo artists? All the while, he’s been completely ignored at the country awards shows for his last two projects.  He’s not overdue just yet, but he’s due.

Dierks Bentley

He went out of his comfort zone to release a bluegrass-flavored album that was pretty darn good.

Brad Paisley

He just missed my list for preferred Entertainer nominees, but he’s at the head of the pack in this category. With his domination at radio, not to mention a stronger studio album than his previous two, I wouldn’t be shocked for him to become the third artist in history to win four of these.

Blake Shelton

His hit-making has certainly been kicked up a notch as of late.  He may be destined to toil just under the radar of this category like Trace Adkins and Gary Allan before him, but it would be nice to see him get a nod.

Josh Turner

A decent comeback at radio and retail, coupled with him being a great singer who’s been overlooked, makes me hope he finishes out this category.


I left off previous nominees Keith Urban, George Strait, and Darius Rucker because they haven’t put out new albums during the eligibility period, so it seems like a good time to let some new folks get a chance. I left off Kenny Chesney because he’s been doing nothing but stopgap releases for the past year, none of which sold to  his normal standards.  I left off Tim McGraw, even though he’s made some music I really like lately, because he hasn’t been doing as well as usual at radio and retail.


  1. As much as I know that overall industry presence plays into the “vocalist” awards, I would still take quality of work into account, so Aldean wouldn’t be anywhere near my ballot.

    Of those within spitting distance of this kind of thing, I would vote for Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Joe Nichols, Brad Paisley, and Blake Shelton based upon what they’ve released during the eligibility period. I’d be fine with Josh Turner or Keith Urban scoring nominations this year, as well.

  2. I like the idea of a shake up and would be satisfied with these nominations. I doubt the CMA would be quick to give up a George nod, even after he retires, they will still likely nominate him for singing along to the radio is in car. This year he’s a lock with hits and a big tour. I really hope Kenny doesnt get nominated because he hasnt done much, so that leaves an open spot for a fresh face in the race, which I would pick Josh Turner. He has one of the best quality, talent, country sound ratio for a mainstream artist out there.

    I can’t imagine anyone besides Paisley winning this one again though.

  3. I pretty much totally second Jonathan’s comment, though I’d sub out Joe Nichols for Chris Young or Luke Bryan. They’ve both had good years, while Joe’s Old Things New has flown under the radar despite some very good cuts.

    From a commercial standpoint, Jason Aldean deserves to win hands down. He’s got the most momentum. It’s just too bad about his actual music.

  4. …But all that said, I predict we’ll be looking at the exact same line-up as last year. I think we may see Jason or Dierks knock out Darius, but I won’t believe in a shake-up of the Keith-Kenny-George-Brad stranglehold until I see it.

  5. @ Jonathan,

    I feel that way with the Grammys, and did about the CMA’s for a long time. But in an era like this, where I can’t come up with a list of five mainstream male vocalists who rise above mediocrity in my mind, sales and airplay are my only tiebreakers!

    I also like the idea of being able to look at a CMA ballot from a given year and get a good picture of the country music landscape at that time. The repetitiveness in the big categories in recent years is getting in the way of that, from my perspective.

  6. I would second Dan’s thought that Chris Young would be a great nod to a newer voice. The iTunes EP of covers he recently released deserves mention all on its own, and it was only three tracks.

    Can I suggest that the stagnation of the nominations seems to go hand in hand with my lack of interest in the radio format? The best thing the industry can do right now is give credit to some of the up-and-comers and feature them on a national stage.

  7. I can’t deny Aldean’s industry presence, but it would really irk me to see him win. I just thought “Crazy Town” was godawful. I would be fine with Paisley winning, even though I haven’t yet forgiven him for “Water.” Bentley or Turner would be my personal top pick, but I don’t expect either one to win.

  8. My picks for nominees are:

    Keith Urban- deserves to win this year

    Jason Aldean- definitely deserves to be nominated! 2nd choice to win.

    Brad Paisley- recent material hasn’t been all that substantial in my opinion but still deserves a nomination

    Billy Currington- like Aldean, Currington is due for a nomination.

    Not sure about 5th nominee. If I had to guess, I would pick George Strait

  9. I have never really paid attention to the Males in country music, but I’d say that your list would match up with mine, and I like the 5 you have chosen.

  10. CORRECTION: I’ve never really paid attention to the Males in country music in recent months, since I don’t listen to country radio anymore or subscribe to ‘Country Weekly’ anymore… The only way I could judge is from my regular chart readings of the Country Songs chart on Billboard.com…. And chart histories.

  11. “But in an era like this, where I can’t come up with a list of five mainstream male vocalists who rise above mediocrity in my mind, sales and airplay are my only tiebreakers!”

    You could easily say the same for the female vocalists as well, especially when you have one of the women, who doesn’t sing as well as my Siamese cats

    If you could include indy artists it would be VERY easy to fill both categories

  12. …i think it would be hard to explain if jason aldean wasn’t nominated. not my favourite country artist but without doubt a recognisable and successful voice. i’d love to see dierks bentley being nominated for his consistant quality recordings, way above average. keith urban is almost as present with his songs on the radio as the the colour black in a cup of coffee – difficult to overlook him. brad paisley’s nomination is as certain as water’s flowing downhill. josh turner, darius rucker, blake shelton, toby keith, chris young, kenny chesney or george strait would all be worthy nominees too – yet, not the most obvious ones this time round.

    anybody else, but brad paisley would be kind of a surprise winner to me.

  13. Keith Urban is marketed as a country singer, and he has had a strong presence in the country music industry, so that’s why he is often nominated for CMA and ACM awards.

    He doesn’t sound country to my ear either. Still, he has released some songs that, while not particularly country, were pretty good pop-rock songs – “‘Til Summer Comes Around” for example. But I wouldn’t say that about all of his songs, and I admit that I am getting a bit tired of his sound.

  14. Keith Urban has good material out, I’ll say that, but none of it is country. If he’d go back to the sound he had with Love Somebody Like You, Making Memories of Us, then I’d be all for him getting country music nods at award shows. But as he markets himself presently, it just isn’t country in anyway.

  15. I agree. I almost wish he would shift his marketing to Top 40 pop. I won’t take anything away from him as a vocalist, but when I tune into a country station, that’s just not the kind of music I’m wanting to hear.

    Of course, those sentiments do apply to many other “country” singers besides Keith.

  16. Mike…could ask that same question about Taylor Swift, Darious Rucker…how about Uncle Kracker, Kenny Chesney and some of Brad Paisley, he’s for sure not total country. Always picking on Keith. Country radio should be proud to have him in their format. He can sing better than any of these listed here.

  17. I agree. It’s time to let others have the chance to get nominated.

    Jason Aldean has been overlooked way too many times. 2010 has been a big year for him with “Crazy Town” and “The Truth”, so let’s hope that the CMA recognizes it.

  18. As an unabashed, massive, Blake Shelton fan, I really wish he would get a nomination. I think there is so much more to him as an artist than Hillbilly Bone and All About Tonight, even though they were hugely successful and I did still enjoy them. I’d just rather see him get a nomination after releasing some stuff that was a bit more substantial.

    As far as the rest of the nominees go, I really enjoyed Dierks’ and Chris Young’s work over the last year. But I have no idea how they pick the nominees for these categories, (as they have never really made sense to me as a “new” country music fan), so I don’t expect things to change much from the status quo.

  19. I’d be fine with Luke Bryan making it in this year. He won’t win, but he’s had a very strong year. I hope Shelton gets a nod as well. He’s actually a very good “vocalist.” But this will be another Paisley win, no matter who the other four are, I think.

  20. Good point, Diamond. Luke Bryan has been doing well lately, and “Rain Is a Good Thing” is one of the most interesting songs I’ve heard on country radio lately. You’re very likely right that he would not win, but I agree that a nod would be well-deserved.

  21. Miranda Lambert & Dierks Bentley will announce the nominees on Sept. 1 on Good Morning America. They will announce the Top 5 categories (so I’d assume Entertainer, Male/Female Vocalist, Group, and Duo).

    Chris Young & Justin Moore will announce the other seven categories on Aug. 31 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Steel Magnolia will announce the radio stations and personalities on Aug. 31 in Nashville, as well.

    CMT Insider Special Addition: 2010 CMA Awards Nominations will air on Sept. 1 at 11am, Sept. 4 at 1:30pm, and Sept. 5 at 11am.

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