2018 ACM Nominees’ Big Hits, Misses and Questions

Diving Into the ACM's Official Voting Criteria and Guidelines

When Reba McEntire hosts the 53rd annual ACM Awards, it will be a night to remember.

And like so many other years, the 2018 nominees list still raises a few questions: Why are there only four nominees in some categories and five in others? How did music released outside of the window of eligibility (Nov. 24, 2016-Dec. 31, 2017) make the final cut?

The ACM Awards’ official guidelines and voting procedures are outlined in an 11-page document online, and they spell out exactly how the organization determines its nominees and winners, but there are still questions that need answering.

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Garth Brooks
Luke Bryan
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban

There is not a name out of place in this category. All are architects of today’s mainstream country sound. But it’s disappointing not seeing Eric Church’s name on the list. He gave his all on his Holdin’ My Own Tour, playing three-hour shows night after night. And if we’re going to nominate a Country Music Hall of Famer, let’s not discount a country icon like Willie Nelson. He is an 11-time ACM award winner and a current nominee for vocal event of the year for “Funny How Time Slips Away” with Glen Campbell. But his career is something everyone strives to have, and he will never retire. In 2017, the 84-year-old artist released two marvelous albums, and his next Last Man Standing arrives April 27. He continues to tour extensively and last year, he launched the new Outlaw Music Festival tour that featured Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, the Avett Brothers, Margo Price and his son’s band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Who does that? But then again, there is still a chance he will be recognized at the 2018 ACM Honors later this year.

Female Vocalist

Kelsea Ballerini
Miranda Lambert
Reba McEntire
Maren Morris
Carrie Underwood

These are all fantastic artists and entertainers. But it would have been nice to see Lee Ann Womack or Alison Krauss recognized in this category for their respective works, The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone and Windy City. But to make that happen would mean eliminating any of these prized voices from the running.

Male Vocalist

Jason Aldean
Thomas Rhett
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban
Chris Young

There are no surprises here. Although, Brett Eldredge, Blake Shelton, Jon Pardi, Church and Nelson each would have been deserving of a nomination.

Vocal Duo

Brothers Osborne
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
LOCASH
Tim McGraw & Faith Hill

Somewhere out there are many McGraw and Hill fans wondering, “Why haven’t they been nominated for duo of the year before?” The reason is that 2017’s release of The Rest of Our Life marked the couple’s first project that was being supported by them as a touring act. And doesn’t everyone want to see this lineup go on tour? How diverse would that audience be?

Vocal Group

Lady Antebellum
LANCO
Little Big Town
Midland
Old Dominion

A big “way to go” goes out to everyone in this category, but a special congrats go out to LANCO and Midland. With the success of their respective breakout anthems, “Greatest Love Story” and “Drinkin’ Problem,” they secured coveted nominations for vocal group of the year for the first time, edging Grammy winners like Zac Brown Band, Nashville stalwarts The Cadillac Three and fan favorite, Rascal Flatts.

New Female Vocalist

Lauren Alaina
Danielle Bradbery
Carly Pearce
Raelynn

First of all, it’s terrific that the ACM continues to recognize new artists in this manner to celebrate the diverse voices shaping country music’s future. But there only four names in this category, while others have five, including the new male vocalist category. And plenty of rising female artists released significant musical contributions in 2017. But according to the ACM, there were four artists nominated for female vocalist this year, as those were the four who achieved the required minimum threshold of votes (2%), per the organization’s criteria.

But still. There was an opportunity here to go beyond the mainstream by considering names like Ashley McBryde, Margo Price, Lillie Mae, Nikki Lane and Natalie Hemby, the latter of whom is a bona fide hit-maker, and her 2017 debut Puxico is a triumph.

New Male Vocalist

Kane Brown
Luke Combs
Devin Dawson
Russell Dickerson
Brett Young

These artists each had a huge year in 2017, making this category among the most competitive this year.

New Vocal Duo or Group

High Valley
LANCO
LOCASH
Midland
Runaway June

This is also a competitive category, and again, there are no surprises. But it’s difficult recognizing LOCASH as a new act when their sound has defined the better half of this decade, their break out hit “I Love This Life” was released in 2015, and they co-wrote Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” and Keith Urban’s “You Gonna Fly.”

Album of the Year

The Breaker, Little Big Town
Producer: Jay Joyce

California Sunrise, Jon Pardi
Producers: Bart Butler, Jon Pardi

From A Room: Volume 1, Chris Stapleton
Producers: Dave Cobb, Chris Stapleton

Happy Endings, Old Dominion
Producer: Shane McAnally

Life Changes, Thomas Rhett
Producers: Julian Bunetta, Jesse Frasure, Dann Huff, Joe London, Thomas Rhett

Major kudos go out to Pardi, who is having a moment as the ACM and CMA’s reigning new artist of the year. His California Sunrise is the oldest release in the category. But the album’s life cycle continues into 2018 with its back-to-back hits “Head Over Boots,” “Dirt on My Boots,” “Heartache on the Dance Floor” and “She Ain’t In It.”

Single of the Year

“Better Man,” Little Big Town
Producer: Jay Joyce

“Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt
Producer: Zach Crowell

“Broken Halos,” Chris Stapleton
Producers: Dave Cobb, Chris Stapleton

“Drinkin’ Problem,” Midland
Producers: Dann Huff, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne

“I’ll Name the Dogs,” Blake Shelton
Producer: Scott Hendricks

This was why Lynch was bummed last week. His “Small Town Boy” was a four-week No. 1 last fall, which is a rare accomplishment in today’s country airplay market. But there were other multi-week No. 1s that didn’t make the cut, including Shelton’s “A Guy With a Girl,” Kenny Chesney’s “All the Pretty Girls,” “Do I Make You Wanna” by Billy Currington, “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young, the Florida Georgia Line-Backstreet Boys collaboration, “God, Your Mama, and Me” and Luke Combs’ “Hurricane” and “When It Rains It Pours.” Plus there were these gems: Carly Pearce’s “Every Little Thing,” Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man,” Brothers Osborne’s “It Ain’t My Fault” and “I Could Use a Love Song” by Maren Morris. How could songs with such impressive track records fall off this list?

Song of the Year

“Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt
Songwriters: Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne

“Female,” Keith Urban
Songwriters: Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galyon and Shane McAnally

“Tin Man,” Miranda Lambert
Songwriters: Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert Jon Randall

“Whiskey and You,” Chris Stapleton
Songwriters: Lee Thomas Miller, Chris Stapleton

Again, there are only four songs nominated. And “Whiskey and You” is from Traveller which was released in 2015, and McGraw recorded it for 2007’s Let It Go. Other Stapleton staples like “Broken Halos” or “Either Way” could have made the list, and there would still be room for another song in the category. But according to the ACM, there were four nominees up for song of the year due to a multi-way tie for the fifth spot, which would have resulted in too many nominees in that category.

Stapleton is the lead nominee with eight nominations in five categories including entertainer, male vocalist, album, single and song of the year. McEntire will host the ACMs live from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 15.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.