If We Ran the CMA Awards… (2019 Edition)

On August 12th, the Country Music Association posted its “CMA Nominee Showcase,” featuring the results of the second round of voting in each of the 12 categories for this year’s CMA awards. The Showcase includes direct links that allow eligible voters to hear music from each of the nominated albums, singles, and songs, and view “For Your Consideration” type ads for each of the artists nominated in every category. The website also reminds the voters of the eligibility criteria for every category, not that those criteria ever seem to matter much when it comes to the CMAs or ACMs.

This second ballot is an important one, because it reflects the top vote-earners in each category from which CMA members will then narrow their lists to the final 5 nominees, which will be announced in a few weeks.

So, once again, we figured that we would go through each category and come up with our “perfect” ballot, were we the ones running the show at the CMAs. Each participating writer voted for up to 5 nominees in each category based upon the fields posted in the Showcase– no write-in candidates were allowed, as much as we were tempted to do so!– and we tallied the votes to see who our CMA nominees would be this year. If fewer than 5 nominees received multiple votes, then that category ended up with a smaller list on our ballot.

In a few weeks’ time, we’ll compare our ballot to the nominees that the actual CMA voting body came up with. Per usual, we’re not anticipating a whole lot of overlap.

Our picks for 2019!

Entertainer of the Year
Dierks Bentley
Eric Church
Kacey Musgraves
Chris Stapleton
Carrie Underwood

I’m just going to copy-paste what we said about this category in 2016 and again in 2018: “We’ve been crowing for years about Underwood’s lack of nominations in this category, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we included her here.” She was a near-unanimous choice for our crew this year, as were Bentley, Church, and Stapleton. Musgraves was the only act to land on all of our individual ballots for a nomination in this category, which, per usual, found room for only two women in its top 20.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: No one to speak of, though we would have gone to bat for a Brandi Carlile nomination in this category, given her sudden rise to prominence within the country and country-adjacent spheres.

Album of the Year
Desperate Man, Eric Church
Honky Tonk Time Machine, George Strait
Interstate Gospel, Pistol Annies
Magnolia, Randy Houser
Stronger Than the Truth, Reba

This was a fairly straightforward vote: Both Eric Church and Pistol Annies received unanimous support– no surprise, given that both albums were ranked highly on our 2018 year-end list– with an even distribution of votes for Reba, Randy Houser, and George Strait. The only other albums to receive stray votes came from Cody Johnson, Kane Brown, and Carrie Underwood. The Showcase list included this set of solid mainstream albums alongside some truly dreadful records by the likes of Florida Georgia Line and Brett Young, and Thomas Rhett will almost certainly make the actual CMA short-list.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: The inclusion of Pistol Annies’ terrific set was one of the most pleasant surprises on the Showcase for 2018; outside of their contributions to Blake Shelton’s emetic “Boys ‘Round Here,” it’s the first time the group has been in contention at the CMAs. After a few years in which albums by artists like Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell all gained some traction, there weren’t any adventurous choices this year, like Yola’s Walk Through Fire, Dee White’s Southern Gentleman or Songs Of Our Native Daughters.

Single of the Year
“Burning Man,” Dierks Bentley feat. Brothers Osborne
“Millionaire,” Chris Stapleton
“She Got the Best of Me,” Luke Combs
“Some Of It,” Eric Church

The Showcase list is a damning indictment of the dire state of country radio, particularly with regard to the representation of women. Of the three singles by solo women that were listed, only Maren Morris’ “GIRL” scored a stray vote among our writers. Beyond that, we showed some partial support to commercial powerhouse Combs, and then unanimous votes for “Burning Man,” “Millionaire,” and “Some Of It.”

Notably missing from the Showcase list: Some of the better but lower-charting singles from the past year failed to make the cut: Brothers Osborne’s “I Don’t Remember Me Before You,” Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks,” Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow,” Midland’s “Mr. Lonely,” and Ashley McBryde’s “Girl Going Nowhere.” We’d vote for those singles over the likes of Chase Rice any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Song of the Year
“Burning Man,” Bobby Pinson & Luke Dick (Dierks Bentley feat. Brothers Osborne)
“Cry Pretty,” Carrie Underwood, Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, & Liz Rose (Underwood)
“Millionaire,” Kevin Welch (Chris Stapleton)
“Rainbow,” Kasey Musgraves, Natalie Hemby, & Shane McAnally (Musgraves)
“Some Of It,” Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, Clint Daniels, & Bobby Pinson (Church)

Another weak Showcase list led to scattered voting. “Burning Man” and “Millionaire” both scored unanimous support, but we weren’t 100% sold on any other potential nominee. The Church, Musgraves, and Underwood songs all had enough support to make our final ballot, whereas “The Daughters,” “Drowns The Whiskey,” and “She Got the Best Of Me” didn’t make the cut.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: Among singles that were shipped to country radio, Ashley McBryde’s “Girl Going Nowhere” seems like the most egregious omission, though I also wondered where Reba’s “Stronger Than the Truth” was.

Best New Artist
Cody Johnson
Ashley McBryde
Carly Pearce
Runaway June

Three-fifths of last year’s ballot returns for 2019: McBryde continues to have our full favor, while fellow returnees Midland and Carly Pearce again scored with 80% of us, as did Runaway June. Texas country act Cody Johnson also garnered just enough votes to make the cut. Dylan Scott– and I’m arching my eyebrow at you on that vote, Kevin– and Tenille Townes both received one vote apiece. The rest of the category was a wash.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: Of artists who have made serious bids for mainstream attention, there weren’t any obvious oversights on the Showcase list. Had Yola, Ian Noe, or Dee White made the short-list, though, that would have made for a tough competition.

Female Vocalist of the Year
Brandi Carlile
Ashley McBryde
Kacey Musgraves
Carrie Underwood

Miranda Lambert was edged out of our final ballot by a single vote; with a new album on the way, she’ll surely figure into next-year’s list. This year, we celebrate whoever it was within the CMA voter base who rallied the troops to get Brandi Carlile on the second ballot! Each of the five richly-deserving women represented here earned votes from four of our five participating writers, so the support for this group was consistently strong! Of note: likely nominees Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini did not earn a single vote between them from our crew.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: The fact that Cam and Mickey Guyton couldn’t garner as much support for the second ballot as Crystal Gayle in the 2019th year of our Lord is appalling; also, if Tanya Tucker isn’t on next year’s Showcase on the strength of her brilliant new collaboration with Carlile, then we riot.

Chris Stapleton Fire AwayMale Vocalist of the Year
Dierks Bentley
Luke Combs
Eric Church
Jon Pardi
Chris Stapleton

Luke Combs bumps Garth Brooks from our ballot this year; otherwise, we went to bat for the same group as in 2018.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: None to speak of, though we continue to wonder how anyone genuinely likes the sound of Brett Young’s mewling-cat voice.

Vocal Duo Or Group of the Year
Brothers Osborne
Little Big Town
Maddie & Tae
Runaway June

As was the case in 2018, our votes across the Vocal Group and Vocal Duo lists shook out in a way that there were five nominees who earned sufficient support across the two categories.  Brothers Osborne, Maddie & Tae, Midland, and newcomers Runaway June were all unanimous choices by our crew this year, while Little Big Town managed to sneak in again.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: This and every year, mainstream country would be a far better place if it embraced Delta Rae.


Musician of the Year
Jenee Fleenor
Paul Franklin
Ilya Toshinsky
Adam Shoenfeld
Derek Wells

Y’all. For the first time in CMA awards history, there is a very good chance that a woman will make the final ballot in this category. That it is the exceptionally talented Jenee Fleenor has us completely geeking out! She should have been nominated before this year, sure, but what a relief to see her name on the Showcase list alongside veterans like Franklin.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: At some point, Amanda Shires’ fiddle work and Jason Isbell’s guitar playing should put them in contention here.

Vocal Event of the Year
“Here I Am,” Dolly Parton feat. Sia
“Love Me Anyway,” Pink feat. Chris Stapleton
“Common,” Maren Morris feat. Brandi Carlile
“Old Town Road (remix),” Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
“Sing One With Willie,” George Strait feat. Willie Nelson

Can’t nobody tell us nothin’. Except for Dolly Parton, whose re-recording of “Here I Am” with Sia landed on the ballot of everyone who voted in this category.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: Most of the tracks from Brooks & Dunn’s godawful Reboot album were included; for whatever reason, “Neon Moon” with Kacey Musgraves didn’t make the cut. Personally, I’m fine with that, but it seems like an odd omission.


Music Video of the Year
“Rainbow,” Kacey Musgraves
“Redemption Day,” Sheryl Crow feat. Johnny Cash

It’s strange that Crow’s team didn’t submit “Redemption Day” in the Vocal Event category, as well.

Notably missing from the Showcase list: The line-dancing piss-take of Midland’s “Mr. Lonely” was one of the year’s more distinctive country videos, which, as ever, was a low bar to clear.



  1. He’s had some success at mainstream country radio which I no longer listen to and, therefore, have not heard those songs, but he did recently release an EP of Keith Whitley covers, including a duet with Lorrie Morgan on “Tell Lorrie I Love Her”.

  2. Kudos on your album choices. With your choices and honorable mentions, you pretty much chose the only really legitimate options in terms of quality out of the 20 semifinalists (although I did get a mild chuckle to see a Rodney Atkins album listed in there). However, as much as I’d love to see the Pistol Annies, Cody Johnson, and Randy House get in, I get the feeling we’re more apt to see Dan & Shay, Maren Morris, and Thomas Rhett. I’m gonna set my expectations low, and just be happy if George Strait can sneak in there.

  3. How amazing it would be to see Reba for an album of the year nomination. That would be an almost 25 year gap since her last album of the year nom if my memory serves me correct.

    I love your list. However I don’t have a lot of confidence that this will be what the voters chose.

  4. Unfortunately, Greg we were both right… didn’t even get Strait. CU usually posts the nominees, so I will refrain…but in my opinion, this year’s crop is arguably the weakest group of AOTY nominees in the history of that category. But, it is a good reflection of the mainstream at this point.

  5. The best thing I’ve read in a long time is the statement about how anybody can really like the sound of Brett Young’s mewly-cat voice! I thought I was the only person in the world who cringed every time I heard him singing! Gawd awful singer!

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