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Five of country music's top stars will compete for the entertainer of the year crown on Wednesday night (Nov. 9) CMA Awards. The all-star event will air live from Nashville on ABC.
So, how do you define the best entertainers in country music? For starters, you have to figure in talent, ticket sales, radio airplay and undeniable charisma, not to mention that "it" factor.
Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban all fit the bill. And after the nominations were revealed, they shared their thoughts with CMT Insider.
"I think a true entertainer is somebody that can go out in front of a crowd, capture their attention, put them in the palm of your hand -- and keep them there for two hours," said Aldean, who landed in the category for the first time this year.
"It's not about just being a vocalist or not just about being an entertainer," he added. "It's having all of the aspects of it, and to be able to keep people where you want them and to hold them there. If somebody pays 50 bucks a ticket to come see you play, they're going to leave there and just feel like they got hit in the face with a frying pan. It's like they're dumbfounded because of what they've just seen. To me, that's an entertainer."
Paisley, who is co-hosting the show with Carrie Underwood, defined it this way: "Probably the element of surprise in concerts, something that you didn't expect. I like it when I go to a concert and it's everything I wanted it to be, plus something else. ... I want to think, 'Wow, I didn't know they were gonna do that. That's really cool. How'd they do that?'"
Asked if he feels differently about the award this year, since he won it in 2010, Paisley replied, "Of course, yeah, it is a different thing to have won it, and it's tempting to say 'defending champion,' but this isn't a boxing match. This is an awards show that recognizes a great year for people, and I'm honored to still be in it. There are a lot of people that could've been in that category."
Shelton secured his first nomination in the entertainer category this year. He said he couldn't believe it, especially after barely getting any recognition at awards shows in the early 2000s.
"It's like I'm a new artist again, and it's exciting to me because music has never gotten old to me," he said. "The grind can wear you down, but I think this is even better -- the way it's working out for me -- because when you finally get there after all those years and all that hard work and never giving up, you're finally rewarded. If nothing else, it's just people recognizing how long you hung in there and some things you've accomplished over the years. It's that much more satisfying for me."
However, Shelton insisted he's not at all nervous about winning or losing.
"I've accomplished so much more than I thought I ever would anyway," he said. "When I left Ada, Okla., I had a dream of hearing myself on the radio one day. When I got a little bit smarter, I had a dream of having a gold record one day. And that's really where it stopped. Everything else that's happened has just been a result of working hard and having the right people around me. But none of these things are things I've ever really planned on, and so I'm just having fun with it."
Swift won the entertainer prize in 2009. Asked how she defines an entertainer, she replied, "I think what makes a real entertainer is just based on my heroes -- for me, seeing Kenny play stadiums. Kenny Chesney has always been like my idea of entertainer of the year because he plays for stadiums -- because 55,000 people will come out and see him play, and that's what it has always meant to me."
She describes the nomination as the ultimate compliment.
"It's so exciting to be in that category," she said. "I can't even tell you because when I think of entertainer of the year, I think of the fans that got you there -- the fans that got you in that category. ... It's for your fans. It's for how many people came out to see you that year, and it's just such an honor to be in that category."
Urban looks for a bonding experience when he considers the term "entertainer."
"I always think of it as somebody that just connects with me and gives me a show," he said. "As far as the live side of it goes, the concerts that have always stayed with me the longest are the ones where I can tell they're really present. They've really, really thought about this show. It wasn't just a set list. It's an actual show and leaves me thoroughly entertained. It's really no more complicated than that. I think it's just that attention to detail."
Urban, who claimed the top prize in 2005 in New York City, said he doesn't feel any pressure this year.
"I just want to really honor this thing," he said. "I always forget that it's based on what you did, because a lot of times I think it's based on the belief that you're going to follow through and take it to the next level. ... It's like a promise ring that they've given you and I like to make sure I honor that."