HOT DISH: Nominees for CMA Awards Raise Their Heads

With So Much Great Music, It's Hard to Pick Favorites

(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 hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at

The nominations for the 43rd annual CMA Awards were announced last week, so here are some of my opinions about this year’s nominees. Whether you agree or disagree with me doesn’t matter because I care about the singers and the songs, and I protect them like a mother hen protects her baby chicks.

Following a six or seven year absence, I was pleased to hear Reba McEntire’s name announced in the female vocalist category. Reba is 33 years older than youngest nominee, Taylor Swift. Since both are signed to the hardest-working label in town — Big Machine/Valory Music — it’s gonna be interesting to see how this category turns out. Of course, there’s Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride under the same umbrella at one of the most powerful country labels, Sony Music Nashville. Each singer is as talented as the other, so what are you gonna do?

Newcomer Darius Rucker found his name in the male vocalist list next to King George Strait, who has been picking up trophies for 25 years. Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban are also deserving of the male vocalist trophy. It’s a shame they don’t declare ties. Don’t believe anybody who says being nominated is as good as winning. It’s just not true.

Same opinion for entertainer of the year. Seeing Taylor Swift in the same category with powerful musicians like Brad and Keith comes as a surprise to me. And there’s Kenny, who has sold a million tour tickets annually for seven years. Some marriages don’t last that long! Look at Strait, who’s been entertaining for almost three decades. Does that qualify him for EOY? Or will the winner be the teenager who has captured the ears and hearts of America’s youth?

I could not vote for new artist of the year. This is unbelievable. I love Randy Houser and Zac Brown equally. Randy writes and performs like a champ, and Zac writes, sings and plays the living daylight out of a guitar. Of course, Jamey Johnson hit us with an album that’s so good, it touches your heart like Hank Williams did in the early ’50s. Jake Owen is so good looking, and Darius Rucker is such a star. What do you do? There’s five of ’em — and they’re ready to fill some shoes.

Since Kix and Ronnie, aka Brooks & Dunn, have given the fans and the CMA the best 20 years of their lives, I would think the duo of the year plaque would belong to them. But then, Montgomery Gentry have been really busy this year and were made Grand Ole Opry members. And Sugarland’s out there giving it their best. The duo division also includes Big & Rich and Joey & Rory. I’m sad Kix and Ronnie are hanging up their saddles, but I doubt their singing days are over. There’s always solo careers. These guys have been good to a lot of newcomers. Thanks, Brooks & Dunn, and God bless you.

Who will take home the single of the year prize? I have no idea who to vote for. There’s only one song out of the five nominated that I can eliminate. That leaves four killer songs. Four that I can hum. Four that make so much sense. I really would like to mention the titles, but I could hurt someone’s feelings. And with something as perfect and as fragile as an artist’s pride, I’d never dare touch that with my worst enemy’s 10-foot pole.

I’ve heard all five of the albums in the running for album of the year. And all five deserve to be the winner.

I could brag on Brad’s great songwriting on American Saturday Night. He puts words together that make you hurt. And then he turns around and makes you happy.

Keith’s Defying Gravity is his finest work so far — both sexy and soulful with tracks that stay with you. Keith was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, but he is definitely one of us. An adopted son, he is as Southern as Gone With the Wind and adds class to country music. Keep in mind, an adopted child of the South is a wanted child, especially if he picks, sings, writes and also happens to love me!

Smart teenybopper Taylor is keeping the high schoolers’ feet tapping with an entire album of music just for them. That Taylor is smart as a whip as a songwriter, singer and performer. She’s Fearless!

Sugarland’s Love on the Inside is a country record by a Georgia duo that walked red dirt roads until they got to town. They’re singing from the heart — with love.

On a recent trip through Alabama, I listened to every song on That Lonesome Song and kept saying, “Thank God for Jamey Johnson.” Friends, if you haven’t heard Jamey’s music playing in the Alabama darkness, you have missed a blessing. Darkness on that stretch of highway will chill you, and you’ll see a thin man in a white hat and white suit toting a guitar in a crappy case. And you’ll see Jamey on those Alabama back roads.

Don’t even allow me to suggest the song of the year. Since Harlan Howard has gone off to heaven for good, I could not think of anyone to talk to about these five great songs. Zac’s “Chicken Fried” jump-started his career big time. Randy Travis“I Told You So” was a No. 1 single for him in 1988 and a No. 1 for Carrie this year. Jamey’s “In Color” killed me with so much truth in the lines. And you have “People Are Crazy” (sung by Billy Currington and written by Bobby Braddock and Troy Jones) and “Then” (Brad’s hit he co-wrote with Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley.) It would take a coin toss to decide which song is the best. They’ll be around forever.

Those are just some of the categories, but I have to add that there’s not a bad player listed among the musician of the year nominees.

Thanks for the music. From Taylor, the youngest, to my dear mature George Strait, I still enjoy and appreciate each and every artist and each and every song. Just keep on keeping it country. It does make me a tad sad, however, that great artists like Alan Jackson, Hank Williams Jr., Dierks Bentley and Toby Keith were overlooked this time.

But as long as Strait can step up to a microphone at Houston’s Reliant Stadium before a sold-out crowd of 48,054 and take home a whopping $4.2 million for one night’s work, I’d say country music’s in pretty dadgum good shape!

And as long as George Jones, the greatest song stylist on earth, can perform on the Late Show With David Letterman, country music can laugh all the way to the bank. Love me some George Jones. Love me some Nancy Jones, too!

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