HOT DISH: ACM Winners’ List Filled With Solid Choices

But Dierks Bentley's Supporters Should Pave His Way to Superstardom

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

Those who determined the winners at the 42nd annual Academy of Country Music Awards made some good choices. How could anyone deny Kenny Chesney the entertainer of the year award? Or Brad Paisley the top male vocalist honor or Carrie Underwood the top female vocalist prize.

Everybody knows Brooks & Dunn earned their 14th award as top vocal duo, and the top vocal group, hands down, is Rascal Flatts. After years of struggling, Rodney Atkins is the ACM’s top new male vocalist. Miranda Lambert emerged as the top new female vocalist, and the sizzling Little Big Town is the top new duo or vocal group.

But Where Was Dierks?
One short year ago, the golden boy of country music, the leader right behind the leader of the pack, was Dierks Bentley. Dierks was in Nashville when he called me from home the day before the ACM show. He’d just learned of my recent cancer surgery and was very disturbed and apologetic that he didn’t know sooner. He’s been praying constantly since he heard. Working every day and night, how could he possibly have the time to keep up with me?

Although he was nominated for top male vocalist in 2006, Dierks was noticeably absent from the running this year. What’s going on? Who is not covering the bases here? I scratched in the dirt and fumed but was not well enough to start a free-for-all on behalf of a young artist who’s truly deserving of the ACM’s recognition. A singer, songwriter and performer, Dierks works more dates than anybody out on the road these days — and the women are crazy over him.

Since I’m having some downtime, some of you gals out there need to stir up some noise about Dierks in all 50 states. I’m not just talking a tad of this and a piddling of that. I’m talking, “Girls, pave the way for superstardom.” Welcome to the big picture!

Brad’s a Winner in Many Respects
Brad Paisley and I have been friends for so long. Why, when we first met, Brad looked up to me!

And was it good to hear from him on the day of the big ACM Awards show. I told him he’d be named top male vocalist. Who else is more of a top male vocalist than Brad Paisley? Like Brad said at the awards show when he thanked his loyal following of fans, “I put a song out about two people drinking themselves to death [“Whiskey Lullaby”], you buy it. I put a love song out [“You’re Everything”], you buy that. I put a song out about the stupid bugs [“Ticks”], you buy that. I really appreciate everything you guys have given me. God bless you.” Trying to overcome the audience reaction, he shouted, “Best fans in the world.”

From the lips of the dad of a 3-month old son, William Huckleberry Paisley, “He’s so cute in the morning when he wakes up always smiling. Kim [Brad’s wife] is so good with him. She’s such a great mom.”

“Any plans for work?” I wondered. After all, the beautiful Kim is an actress and quite well known. Unlike all the Hollywood moms we read about, it’s Kim who takes care of Will — not a nurse. Will is raised in the couple’s Tennessee home or West Coast home, depending on which region Brad is working. Kim and Will were at their California digs when they watched Brad sing “Ticks” and win his ACM trophy.

Yes, like the rest of my encouragers, Brad is upset over my condition and, like the rest of Music Town, he is in constant prayer. I expect all you fans to join the chorus of “Pray Hazel Well.”

Country Music on Today
You cannot imagine how excited I was to see Josh Turner, Gretchen Wilson and Martina McBride performing on NBC-TV’s Today Show in New York City. Josh Turner revealed that he and his wife will travel with their 7-month-old son in their home on wheels, and I recognized his wife playing keyboards. With his Johnny Cash sound-alike vocals, Turner growled out his song to the delight of the mob outside the studio on Rockefeller Plaza.

Gretchen performed, “One of the Boys,” the title song from her new album. Looking lean and serene, Gretchen blew the crowd away as she emphasized each and every word of the song, prompting fans to sing along with the gal who put Pocahontas, Ill., on the map. Gretchen says daughter Gracie is on the road with her about half the time and the other half with her daddy.

It was Martina who sang tears from my eyes when she performed “In My Daughter’s Eyes.” Then they aired a mini-Mother’s Day video with her husband John and daughters Delaney, Emma and Ava playing on the living room sofa. Martina, John and the girls will spend the summer on the road. Between dates, they will find parks where they’ll play and swim. It’s a working vacation for the McBrides.

Was the Today Show perfect? The problem was those hokey straw hats the audience wore that nobody wears in Nashville — or nowhere else country music is played. It seems to me that New York TV producers often work overtime to make the country music audience look goofy. But it’s those producers who wind up looking the worst.

A Final Word for the Week
Be sure and watch Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith on Sunday night (May 27) with my special guest, Jason Michael Carroll. They tell me there is a scene featuring the two of us that’s well worth remembering. The movie is Toby Keith’s Broken Bridges.

See one of Hazel’s favorite Hot Dish recipes: Barbecue.