The ol' crystal ball has gone all foggy this year, making it mighty tough to read the names of winners at tonight's 34th Annual CMA Awards. Obscuring the clarity is a raging tempest over whether contemporary country or the traditional sound will prevail, whether the youngbloods or the old guard will dominate. More likely, the vote will be split.
who hasn't won a CMA award in 20 years, is in the running for Single of the Year. Among his competitors is West Virginian
Brad Paisley, nominated a whopping six times in his first-ever entry into the field of nominees. George Strait, whose first
single charted in 1981, vies with Paisley, who charted first in 1999, for Male Vocalist of the Year.
"Murder on Music
Row," a lament about the way things are in Nashville, is up for two awards, Song of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year,
and Alan Jackson's collection of hard-country covers, Under the Influence, is matched against Faith Hill's pop-leaning
release, Breathe, for Album of the Year.
When the dust settles following tonight's telecast (8 p.m. ET on CBS),
we could all be gasping in surprise. Remember 1995, when Alison Krauss took four awards and shocked the country music world?
With that in mind, we caution: this is only for sport; please, no wagering.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR:
Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, George Strait
The Chicks, Strait and McGraw-Hill all mounted high-grossing tours
this year, but the Chicks re-invented the formula. Their show was start-to-finish fun, with strong opening acts, intermission
hijinks and one of the most dynamic concerts on the road in any genre. The Chicks are country's greatest, freshest hope for
a return to prominence. Husband-wife team McGraw and Hill may split some votes.
Our prediction: Dixie Chicks.
OF THE YEAR:
"Breathe" - Faith Hill; "Buy Me a Rose" - Kenny Rogers; "He Didn't Have to Be" - Brad Paisley; "How Do You
Like Me Now?!" - Toby Keith; "I Hope You Dance" - Lee Ann Womack
Though "Breathe" was a major crossover success, Womack's
release had a special combination of class, soul and a universal message.
Our prediction: "I Hope You Dance."
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Breathe - Faith Hill; Fly - Dixie Chicks; I Hope You Dance - Lee Ann Womack;
Under the Influence - Alan Jackson; Who Needs Pictures - Brad Paisley
One of the strongest fields in
this year's voting. The Dixie Chicks beat the sophomore jinx with Fly and borrowed the album title -- in all its many meanings
-- to brand their 2000 North American tour. Breathe generated hits, but was not as interesting, top to bottom, as the Chicks'
Our Prediction: Fly.
SONG OF THE YEAR:
"Amazed" - Marv Green, Aimee Mayo and Chris
Lindsey; "Breathe" - Holly Lamar and Stephanie Bentley; "He Didn't Have to Be" - Brad Paisley and Kelley Lovelace; "I Hope
You Dance" - Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers; "Murder on Music Row" - Larry Cordle and Larry Shell
at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart for six weeks, "Amazed" topped the country singles chart for eight weeks and
"I Hope You Dance" was a No. 1 song for five weeks. "Murder on Music Row" expressed in song the frustrations of country traditionalists.
Paisley's "He Didn't Have to Be" makes a powerful statement about step-parenting. "I Hope You Dance" wins by a nose, primarily
because its impact was felt closest to voting time, and it pulls hard on the heartstrings.
Our Prediction: "I
Hope You Dance."
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha
McBride relinquishes her crown to Womack, a mild surprise given Hill's rise to popular stardom.
Prediction: Lee Ann Womack.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR:
Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, George
Only Jackson and Paisley haven't won this award before. Jackson managed to make noise with last year's CMA awards
appearance and with an album of covers that generated a couple of Top 10 hits. Paisley has made a lot of friends quickly and
could sneak in for the win. Strait and Gill are tied with the most wins ever in the category -- five each. McGraw did not
release an album during the eligibility year.
Our Prediction: Alan Jackson.
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR:
Asleep at the Wheel, Diamond Rio, Dixie Chicks, Lonestar
Lonestar had breakout success this year with some major hits,
but not like the Dixie Chicks.
Our Prediction: Dixie Chicks.
VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR:
Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, The Kinleys, The Warren Brothers
After a record-breaking eight-year run, Brooks &
Dunn yield to Montgomery Gentry. The CMA needs fresh blood.
Our Prediction: Montgomery Gentry.
EVENT OF THE YEAR
George Strait (a duet with Alan Jackson) - "Murder on Music Row"; Asleep at the Wheel/Dixie Chicks -
"Roly Poly"; Clint Black (with Lisa Hartman Black) - "When I Said I Do"; Faith Hill with Tim McGraw - "Let's Make Love"; Lee
Ann Womack (special guest appearance Sons of the Desert) - "I Hope You Dance"
The Strait-Jackson pairing, with harmony
vocals from Womack, was the only true "event" in the bunch. Two powerhouse stars team up to make a statement about country
Our Prediction: "Murder on Music Row."
MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR:
(Award goes to artist and director)
- Faith Hill, Lili Zanuck, director; "Goodbye Earl" - Dixie Chicks, Evan Bernard, director; "He Didn't Have to Be" - Brad
Paisley, Deaton Flanigen, director; "How Do You Like Me Now?!" - Toby Keith, Michael Salomon, director; "I Hope You Dance"
- Lee Ann Womack, Gerry Wenner, director
Faith in between the sheets? Dennis Franz as a dead guy? Womack made a classy
clip, singing about believing in the future and holding on to one's dreams while cavorting with her adorable kids.
Prediction: "I Hope You Dance."
Sara Evans, Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley, SHeDAISY, Chely
Easiest call of the night. Six nominations on his first album. How's that for career development?
Prediction: Brad Paisley.