2015 CMA Nominations

Throughout 2015, there have been rumblings of a backlash against the prevailing trends at country radio, and that backlash is certainly reflected in the year’s crop of CMA nominees. Eric Church leads the pack with 6 total nominations, while critics’ and industry insiders’ favorite Chris Stapleton went from being a possible long-shot for Best New Artist to being a 4-time nominee. Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Thomas Rhett only managed one nomination apiece, while Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch, and Chase Rice were all, mercifully, shut out. This marks two years in a row that the CMAs have surprised us with their relative good taste and discretion.

Entertainer of the YearEric-Church

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Eric Church
  • Miranda Lambert

Who’s In:  Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church

Who’s Out: George Strait, Keith Urban

Brooks is back in the mix, thanks to the massive success of his comeback tour, and Chesney is back in the running here, as well. Church’s haul of nominations includes the night’s biggest category, while Lambert, nominated for a total of 4 awards, remains the lone woman nominated for Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row. Still, there’s quite a shake-up in this category, as only Lambert and reigning champ Luke Bryan return from last year.

Male Vocalist of the YearDierks-Bentley

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton
  • Chris Stapleton

Who’s in: Chris Stapleton

Who’s Out: Keith Urban

Dierks Bentley earns  his fourth nomination in this category, though it’s the first time in his career that he has been recognized in consecutive years. Luke Bryan and Eric Church each earn their fourth consecutive nominations. That none of those three artists have won the Male Vocalist of the Year trophy is at least partially a result of the fact that Blake Shelton has managed to win this award in each of the five years he has been nominated (2010 – 2014). He’s nominated for a sixth time this year.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on this year’s ballot is the inclusion of Chris Stapleton in this race: Considering his formidable voice, it seems that voters took the word “vocalist” to heart.

Female Vocalist of the YearCarrie-Underwood

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack

Who’s In:  Kelsea Ballerini, Lee Ann Womack

Who’s Out: Martina McBride, Taylor Swift

And so it comes to pass that we bid farewell to Taylor Swift from the Female Vocalist line-up, where she had been a mainstay since 2008. Martina McBride is also missing for only the third time since 1996.

Miranda Lambert will be looking for her sixth consecutive win in the category, though it’s worth noting that her momentum at radio has stalled considerably since this time a year ago. That could be good news for three-time winner Carrie Underwood (2006 – 2008), nominated for the tenth straight year; as ever, she has a vocal contingent of supporters who feel she hasn’t always been recognized for her best work.

Radio still hasn’t embraced Kacey Musgraves, though she has proven herself a darling of the awards show circuit, but radio has embraced newcomer Kelsea Ballerini in a big way, and that support carried her to a nomination in this category. Lee Ann Womack continues to ride the wave of critical support for The Way I’m Livin’ through the current awards cycle; she’s nominated here for the first time since 2005.

Vocal Group of the YearLittle-Big-Town

  • The Band Perry
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Rascal Flatts

Who’s Out: Eli Young Band

Eli Young Band get bumped from this fairly stable line-up of nominees for the first time since 2012: Evidently voters didn’t care for their god-awful collaboration with Andy Grammer on “Honey, I’m Good.” That allows Rascal Flatts to sneak back onto the ballot for the first time since 2011.

Little Big Town will be looking for their fourth straight win, and, with 5 total nominations, they’re the obvious frontrunners over three-time winners Lady Antebellum (2009 – 2011) and perennial runners-up The Band Perry and Zac Brown Band.

Vocal Duo of the Yearmaddieandtae

  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Thompson Square

Who’s In: Brothers Osborne, Maddie & Tae

Who’s Out: The Swon Brothers, Love & Theft

This category has seen quite a bit of fluctuation over the past few years, and this year is no exception, as The Brothers Osborne and Maddie & Tae make the ballot for the first time. They’ll square off against Florida Georgia Line, winners in 2013 and 2014, and 2012 winners Thompson Square. Dan + Shay are nominated for the second straight year.


New Artist of the YearChris-Stapleton

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Sam Hunt
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

Who’s In: Kelsea Ballerini, Sam Hunt, Maddie & Tae, Chris Stapleton

Who’s Out: Brandy Clark, Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore, Cole Swindell

Only Thomas Rhett returns for a second nomination in this category– though both Brandy Clark and Cole Swindell would also have been eligible again this year. It’s his sole nomination, whereas each of the four first-time nominees scored at least one other nod this year.

Album of the YearKacey-Musgraves

  • Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt
    Produced by Michael Knox
  • Kenny Chesney, The Big Revival
    Produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney
  • Little Big Town, Pain Killer
    Produced by Jay Joyce
  • Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
    Produced by Kacey Musgraves, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveller
    Produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton

Jason Aldean (2011) and Kenny Chesney (2004) are both previous winners in this category, while Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves have been nominated for their albums in previous years. Chesney, Musgraves, and Chris Stapleton are technically double nominees for their roles as co-producers on each of their nominated albums. The albums by Musgraves and Stapleton garnered excellent reviews from critics, while Little Big Town, Chesney, and Aldean earned mixed reviews for their albums.

Single of the YearTalladega

  • Lee Brice, “I Don’t Dance”
    Produced by Lee Brice
  • Kenny Chesney, “American Kids”
    Produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney
  • Eric Church, “Talladega”
    Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora, Jr.
  • Sam Hunt, “Take Your Time”
    Produced by Zach Crowell and Shane McAnally
  • Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”
    Produced by Jay Joyce

Church is nominated for the second year in a row for a single from The Outsiders. Both Sam Hunt and Lee Brice score their first nominations in this category, though it’s worth noting that Brice’s “I Don’t Dance” was nominated for Song of the Year in 2014 based upon the CMA’s “flexible” “rules” with regard to their eligibility periods. Chesney hasn’t been nominated for one of his singles since “Don’t Blink” in 2008, while Little Big Town won this award in 2012 for “Pontoon.”

Song of the YearGirlCrush

  • “American Kids”
    Written by Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally
  • “Girl Crush”
    Written by Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, and Hillary Lindsey
  • “Like a Cowboy”
    Written by Randy Houser and Brice Long
  • “Like a Wrecking Ball”
    Written by Eric Church and Casey Beathard
  • “Take Your Time”
    Written by Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne

Shane McAnally, a two-time winner for his collaborations with Kacey Musgraves, is back in the running this year for co-writing hits for Kenny Chesney and Sam Hunt. Randy Houser and Sam Hunt earn their first nominations for songwriting, while Eric Church has been nominated previously in this category. A win for “Girl Crush” would be the first win for each of Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, and Hillary Lindsey.

Music Video of the YearLittleRedWagon

  • Miranda Lambert, “Little Red Wagon”
    Directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”
    Directed by Karla Welch and Matthew Welch
  • Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song”
    Directed by TK McKamy
  • Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”
    Directed by Marc Klasfeld
  • Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water”
    Directed by Raj Kapoor

“Little Red Wagon” marks Trey Fanjoy’s fifteenth nomination, while the other five directors are all nominated for the first time. Even if Music Video of the Year is one of the minor CMA awards– it has been relegated to pre-telecast status for years now– it’s nonetheless significant that all five of this year’s nominated videos are by women (or, in the case of “Girl Crush,” feature a woman on lead vocals).

Musical Event of the YearDjangoJimmie

  • Kenny Chesney w/ Grace Potter, “Wild Child”
  • Miranda Lambert feat. Little Big Town, “Smokin’ and Drinkin'”
  • Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Django and Jimmie
  • Blake Shelton w/ Ashley Monroe, “Lonely Tonight”
  • Keith Urban feat. Eric Church, “Raise ’em Up”

For the second year in a row, this category features a pair of veteran artists nominated for a terrific album: Last year, Vince Gill and Paul Franklin were nominated for Bakersfield, while Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard scored a nomination for Django and Jimmie. They’re up against four singles from some of the biggest acts in contemporary country. Chesney has won this award twice (in 2007 and 2012), while Urban and Lambert won the award last year for “We Were Us.”

Musician of the YearSam-Bush

  • Sam Bush (Mandolin)
  • Jerry Douglas (Dobro)
  • Paul Franklin (Steel Guitar)
  • Dann Huff (Guitar)
  • Mac McAnally (Guitar)

Who’s In: N/A

Who’s Out: N/A

This line-up remains the same as last year. Sam Bush, nominated for the fifth time, and Paul Franklin, nominated for the 23rd (!!) time, are up against previous winners Jerry Douglas (2002, 2005, 2007), Dann Huff (2001, 2004), and Mac McAnally (2008 – 2014).



  1. I googled “1995 cma nominees” and the second item, a CW article from 2 weeks ago, had all the nominees and winners. I have a feeling that most country music fans would prefer the list from 20 years ago.

  2. I’m happy, but also surprised, that CMA has recognized Sam Hunt. Most don’t consider his music to be country.

    I had never heard of Chris Stapleton before these nominations came out. I’ll have to check him out.

    Otherwise, these nominations are very predictable and pretty boring.

  3. I don’t understand why Keith Urban doesn’t earn the musician nomination. Seems he is wanted by lots of other artists on their albums. That category seems too exclusive.

  4. Jason Aldean in Album? Really? Thankfully he was left out elsewhere.

    What did Miranda do to merit inclusion in Entertainer? She didn’t have a real radio hit in the past year. Was her tour all that big?

    The fact that “I Don’t Dance” is nominated for a second year running is ridiculous. Considering that type of thing has occurred before, why have the CMAs not fixed whatever rule allows it to happen?

    I love that the 5 music video nominations are female-driven (not only the artists, but a couple of the directors).

  5. Keith Urban should be in more of these nominations. Seems as though the country industry is trying to push him out. He didn’t have a big tour this year but performed at many festivals and country jams to awesome reviews. He produced 4 #1 singles as well. He should have been in the Entertainer and Vocalist slots. He certainly deserved entertainer more than Miranda. I just hope Sam Hunt goes on over to Pop. That’s where he should be. Can’t stand him.

  6. Jess, what songs in Country are similar to his? He’s closer to Taylor Swift’s kind of music, IMO. Or maybe Hip Hop. He even dresses like Kanye West. JMO.

  7. Nicely written article.
    I am once again in a quandary as to why Zach Brown Band and Carrie Underwood are left out of Entertainer. This year ZBB has a great album! What is Miranda still being shoved down our throats? Her only two hit songs were White Liar and The House that Built me–years ago!
    I know, I know. It’s all record company-political. It doesn’t matter who the fans actually support! The CMAs have become pretty irrelevant. Thank goodness for DVRing and fast-forwarding through the garbage. Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood make that show.

  8. While I’ve been a ZBB fan, I’m glad they weren’t included this year, because I did not like their album at all.

    I’m pleased about Chris Stapleton’s nominations and I hope he wins something!

  9. Pulling hard for Chris Stapleton and Maddie & Tae in every category they’re nominated in. Not sure which I would prefer to win Best New Artist. Also rooting for Garth for Entertainer, of course. I saw his show in State College, PA, and it was awesome.

  10. I think it’s time for Dierks to win Male Vocalist, but I probably have an irrational amount of affection for him. At the very least, I hope it doesn’t go to Church. That guy’s voice (and overall persona) bugs the heck out of me.

    I’d also really love to see Lee Ann win Female Vocalist.

  11. Why wasn’t Sturgill Simpson’s “Memtamodern Sounds In Country Music” considered for album of the year? The guy is signed to a major recording label now in Atlantic Records. Therefore, when you combine that fact with a top-notch album, he should have been given a look for AOTY.

  12. ^ It wasn’t eligible for this year’s ceremony, was it? It came out in May 2014. It may have been “considered” last year, depending what you mean by that word choice. “Considered” just not enough votes to get in.

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