The ol’ crystal ball has gone all foggy this year, making it mighty tough to read the names of winners at tonight’s 34th Annual CMA Awards. Obscuring the clarity is a raging tempest over whether contemporary country or the traditional sound will prevail, whether the youngbloods or the old guard will dominate. More likely, the vote will be split.
Kenny Rogers, who hasn’t won a CMA award in 20 years, is in the running for Single of the Year. Among his competitors is West Virginian Brad Paisley, nominated a whopping six times in his first-ever entry into the field of nominees. George Strait, whose first single charted in 1981, vies with Paisley, who charted first in 1999, for Male Vocalist of the Year.
“Murder on Music Row,” a lament about the way things are in Nashville, is up for two awards, Song of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year, and Alan Jackson’s collection of hard-country covers, Under the Influence, is matched against Faith Hill’s pop-leaning release, Breathe, for Album of the Year.
When the dust settles following tonight’s telecast (8 p.m. ET on CBS), we could all be gasping in surprise. Remember 1995, when Alison Krauss took four awards and shocked the country music world? With that in mind, we caution: this is only for sport; please, no wagering.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR:
Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, George Strait
The Chicks, Strait and McGraw-Hill all mounted high-grossing tours this year, but the Chicks re-invented the formula. Their show was start-to-finish fun, with strong opening acts, intermission hijinks and one of the most dynamic concerts on the road in any genre. The Chicks are country’s greatest, freshest hope for a return to prominence. Husband-wife team McGraw and Hill may split some votes.
Our prediction: Dixie Chicks.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR:
“Breathe” – Faith Hill; “Buy Me a Rose” – Kenny Rogers; “He Didn’t Have to Be” – Brad Paisley; “How Do You Like Me Now?!” – Toby Keith; “I Hope You Dance” – Lee Ann Womack
Though “Breathe” was a major crossover success, Womack’s release had a special combination of class, soul and a universal message.
Our prediction: “I Hope You Dance.”
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Breathe – Faith Hill; Fly – Dixie Chicks; I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack; Under the Influence – Alan Jackson; Who Needs Pictures – Brad Paisley
One of the strongest fields in this year’s voting. The Dixie Chicks beat the sophomore jinx with Fly and borrowed the album title — in all its many meanings — to brand their 2000 North American tour. Breathe generated hits, but was not as interesting, top to bottom, as the Chicks’ effort.
Our Prediction: Fly.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
“Amazed” – Marv Green, Aimee Mayo and Chris Lindsey; “Breathe” – Holly Lamar and Stephanie Bentley; “He Didn’t Have to Be” – Brad Paisley and Kelley Lovelace; “I Hope You Dance” – Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers; “Murder on Music Row” – Larry Cordle and Larry Shell
“Breathe” stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart for six weeks, “Amazed” topped the country singles chart for eight weeks and “I Hope You Dance” was a No. 1 song for five weeks. “Murder on Music Row” expressed in song the frustrations of country traditionalists. Paisley’s “He Didn’t Have to Be” makes a powerful statement about step-parenting. “I Hope You Dance” wins by a nose, primarily because its impact was felt closest to voting time, and it pulls hard on the heartstrings.
Our Prediction: “I Hope You Dance.”
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood
McBride relinquishes her crown to Womack, a mild surprise given Hill’s rise to popular stardom.
Our Prediction: Lee Ann Womack.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, George Strait
Only Jackson and Paisley haven’t won this award before. Jackson managed to make noise with last year’s CMA awards appearance and with an album of covers that generated a couple of Top 10 hits. Paisley has made a lot of friends quickly and could sneak in for the win. Strait and Gill are tied with the most wins ever in the category — five each. McGraw did not release an album during the eligibility year.
Our Prediction: Alan Jackson.
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR:
Alabama, Asleep at the Wheel, Diamond Rio, Dixie Chicks, Lonestar
Lonestar had breakout success this year with some major hits, but not like the Dixie Chicks.
Our Prediction: Dixie Chicks.
VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR:
Bellamy Brothers, Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, The Kinleys, The Warren Brothers
After a record-breaking eight-year run, Brooks & Dunn yield to Montgomery Gentry. The CMA needs fresh blood.
Our Prediction: Montgomery Gentry.
VOCAL EVENT OF THE YEAR
George Strait (a duet with Alan Jackson) – “Murder on Music Row”; Asleep at the Wheel/Dixie Chicks – “Roly Poly”; Clint Black (with Lisa Hartman Black) – “When I Said I Do”; Faith Hill with Tim McGraw – “Let’s Make Love”; Lee Ann Womack (special guest appearance Sons of the Desert) – “I Hope You Dance”
The Strait-Jackson pairing, with harmony vocals from Womack, was the only true “event” in the bunch. Two powerhouse stars team up to make a statement about country music.
Our Prediction: “Murder on Music Row.”
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:
(Award goes to artist and director)
“Breathe” – Faith Hill, Lili Zanuck, director; “Goodbye Earl” – Dixie Chicks, Evan Bernard, director; “He Didn’t Have to Be” – Brad Paisley, Deaton Flanigen, director; “How Do You Like Me Now?!” – Toby Keith, Michael Salomon, director; “I Hope You Dance” – Lee Ann Womack, Gerry Wenner, director
Faith in between the sheets? Dennis Franz as a dead guy? Womack made a classy clip, singing about believing in the future and holding on to one’s dreams while cavorting with her adorable kids.
Our Prediction: “I Hope You Dance.”
Sara Evans, Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley, SHeDAISY, Chely Wright
Easiest call of the night. Six nominations on his first album. How’s that for career development?
Our Prediction: Brad Paisley.