Underwood, Rascal Flatts and Other Acts React to ACM Nominations

Sugarland, Womack, Urban, Chesney and Bentley Also Among Nominees

Carrie Underwood was optimistic she would receive one mention when the nominees for the 41st annual Academy of Country Music Awards were announced. Instead, she was named in four categories to become the year’s top female nominee when the nominations were revealed Wednesday (March 8) in Nashville.

“I mean, honestly, I was just really hoping for new female artist of the year because I’m the newbie,” Underwood told CMT Insider. “I’m the new kid on the block, so that’s the one that I was really hanging my hopes on. The rest … I don’t expect to win them. I’m just excited to be nominated.”

Underwood’s life has been a whirlwind after winning the American Idol talent competition in May 2005. Things changed most drastically in November when she released her debut album, Some Hearts, that has already reached double-platinum status for shipments of 2 million copies. Underwood is nominated for top female vocalist and top new female vocalist, and her recording of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” is up for single and song of the year.

“It hasn’t even been a year yet, and it’s just been incredible how you can go from being a normal college student — trying to pay for school and food and books — to going to all the stuff that I get to do now and not having to worry about that stuff anymore.”

Underwood says she’s looking forward to the awards show in Las Vegas.

“I was a big nobody back a year ago,” she laughs. “I’m still a big nobody.”

Rascal Flatts received four ACM nominations, including album of the year for Feels Like Today and song of the year for “Skin (Sarabeth).” However, the trio also reeled in their first entertainer of the year nomination, and that’s the one that really got their attention.

“There is a lot that goes through our minds, and I think Gary said it best a little earlier,” guitarist Joe Don Rooney said. “Being an artist, you have checklists going down what things you’d like to accomplish in your career. That was one of the biggest ones just to be nominated. It’s huge. It really is. We’ve been having a lot of fun out there on the road. The fans have been amazing.”

Rascal Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus said the other thrill is to be mentioned in the vocal group category alongside Alabama.

“It is surreal to still be nominated with them,” DeMarcus told CMT Insider. “It’s great to be in there with your heroes and be mentioned in the same breath because we have looked up to them so much over the years. … Man, if there’s any pattern that you want to follow with a career, it would certainly be Alabama’s.”

Sugarland, now a duo, received five nominations — top new duo or vocal group, top vocal group of the year, album of the year (for Twice the Speed of Life) and single and song of the year (for “Baby Girl”). “Who would have thought that we could go from closing the ACM’s last year as newcomers to being nominated for five awards this year?” said lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles. Musical partner Kristian Bush added, “I couldn’t believe the announcement. I had to go online and read it twice just to be sure. It’s such an honor to be recognized by the ACM members. Also, Brad Paisley called me this morning and said that if we had just worked a little harder last year, we could have had as many nominations as he does.” (Paisley received six nominations.)

Lee Ann Womack earned a top female vocalist nomination, plus other nominations for album of the year (for There’s More Where That Came From) and video of the year (for “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”). Womack noted, “I’m so flattered that this album is being recognized because it is so close to my heart. It is one of my proudest achievements.”

Gary Allan received an album of the year nomination for Tough All Over and a single of the year nomination for “Best I Ever Had.” Commenting on the nominations, Allan noted, “All of my records are personal, but this one is by far my most personal. I put my heart and soul into it. I’m honored to know that my peers recognize and appreciate that.”

Reigning ACM entertainer of the year Kenny Chesney again racked up nominations in the top male vocalist and entertainer categories.

“You’re always glad to see that your peers and the people who make this business rock recognize both the hard work that goes into this music and what we do,” Chesney said. “I am always so focused on what’s next … sometimes I forget to pause and think about everything we’ve accomplished. No matter what you do, you always see the next challenge.”

Keith Urban also received top male vocalist and entertainer of the year nominations. He noted, “It’s always an honor to be nominated next to the best in our business. To those who have seen us on the road and had us in their thoughts — and to our country radio and video stations and my label — I thank you for giving me the opportunity to do what I love most.”

Dierks Bentley celebrated his male vocalist nomination in Athens, Ga., with his younger brother, Fife, and 400 people during a surprise show at the Lambda Chi fraternity house at the University of Georgia.

“It’s amazing to be in the same category as George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley,” Bentley said. “It’s ironic that I found out the same day I’m headed to a frat house to play for 400 college kids for free beer. It just shows how far we’ve come but that we haven’t forgotten where we’ve come from.”

Little Big Town received their first-ever award nominations with mentions in the top vocal group and top new duo or vocal group categories.

“My mom was watching this morning and called to tell me we were nominated for group of the year,” said Little Big town’s Karen Fairchild. “We were on the bus and didn’t get to watch the announcements, so I was arguing with her, telling her that wasn’t possible — it must be new group. How great to find out we are nominated in both of those categories. To say we are grateful beyond words would be a huge understatement.”

Commenting on his top new male vocalist nomination, Craig Morgan said, “This has already been such a great week. I’m in the studio working on a new album and having a blast. Then I find out I’m nominated for top new male vocalist. What an honor to be recognized by the Academy of Country Music. I have had such a great career doing what I love, and the support I have received from radio and the fans is so humbling. But it is a special feeling to be recognized by your peers.”

Van Zant’s top vocal duo nomination had special meaning for Johnny Van Zant (a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd) and brother Donnie Van Zant (a member of .38 Special).

“Who would have thought just a year ago when the album came out that we would be nominated,” Johnny said. “Last year, we were there as presenters. This year, we’re nominees. We are both hoping we win.” Donnie added, “Since this is our first country album, it is a real honor just to be nominated.”

On his top new male artist nod, Billy Currington said, “What an honor. This year keeps getting better and better. 2006 has been very good to me.”

Top new female artist nominee Julie Roberts said, “I was in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport this morning, and a man came up to me and said congratulations. I said, ’For what?’ He said, ’For your ACM nomination.’ I screamed so loud, I think I scared him to death. I am extremely honored.”

CBS will broadcast the May 23 awards show live from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.