This is always an interesting category that awards show enthusiasts and industry folks alike look forward to seeing every year. Perhaps it’s because it’s usually one of the most diverse categories. Some artists whose names land in the initial running — including Kacey Musgraves, Lee Brice, Tyler Farr, Parmalee and Thomas Rhett — are newer than others.
Regardless of who emerged as the three finalists, I can’t recall ever seeing a year when all of the initial nominees weren’t completely deserving of such recognition.
A case in point is Justin Moore. With three albums and some No. 1 singles, the Arkansas native might not be what you’d consider new by industry standards. But for many country fans, he’s still a fresh face on the scene. (Call it my girly side, but I’ve never found anything wrong with being called a “fresh face.”)
This nomination is huge for him. It’s recognition as an emerging voice of significance and importance in the format. He’s stone-cold country — a purist, if you will, stylistically and personally. In a sea of modern, pop-driven records and artists, many have been asking, “Where are the neo-traditional guys nowadays?” You can point to Justin Moore.
The same goes for Brett Eldredge. He burst onto the scene in 2010 with the poignant single “Raymond,” a tune inspired by his grandmother’s fight with Alzheimer’s. Audiences were blown away, not only by the song’s powerful message but with Eldredge’s purely flawless voice which is pretty much unlike any other male singer on the country charts right now. But despite the whole package of looks, talent and charm dangling right in front of our faces, it would be 2013 before Eldredge snagged his first big hit with the song “Don’t Ya.” And, boy, was it a big hit. His time is now.
And when I listen to Kip Moore and I hear that voice, those lyrics and melodies and look at that face (and those arms), it makes me scratch my head to think someone didn’t sign him the second he hit the pavement in Nashville back in 2004. But it would be four years of working retail and writing songs for publisher Brett James before he would see his record deal which led to his first No. 1 single, “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” back in 2011. With new music on the horizon, 2014 is going to be a great year for him.
All of this raises a big question. Does the timeline of an artist’s big breakthrough really matter anymore? Does it matter how long they’ve been in Nashville or on the road? Does it matter how long it takes them to get that first hit — to nail that nomination — to be considered established and not a fresh face?
I think not.
What does matter is that all these truly talented artists have paid their dues, whether they’re new to you and me or not. And they’re finally getting the nods they deserve. Kudos to the ACM for recognizing them.
Fan voting for the ACM’s best new artist begins March 24. The winner will be announced April 6 announced during the ACM Awards in Las Vegas.