The 56th annual CMA Awards will be held Wednesday, Nov. 9 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, airing live on ABC. This year’s show will be co-hosted by two-time CMA entertainer of the year winner Luke Bryan, alongside NFL luminary Peyton Manning.
Will leading nominee Lainey Wilson, who has six nominations in her first year as a nominee, take home her first CMA Awards wins? Will five-time entertainer of the year nominee Carrie Underwood or six-time entertainer of the year nominee Miranda Lambert finally end the 11-year drought of a female in the marquee award’s winner’s circle? (Taylor Swift was the most recent female to take home the CMA’s most coveted honor, in 2011.) Or will reigning CMA entertainer of the year Combs take it for a second straight year — or sales and touring juggernaut Morgan Wallen for the first time? (Combs and Wallen go head-to-head in the male vocalist category as well, while five-time male vocalist winner Chris Stapleton will also be a factor in both races.)
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Cody Johnson saw a major breakthrough this year with “’Til You Can’t.” Could he pull off the male vocalist win, or a single of the year win for the track? Meanwhile, Johnson and Lainey Wilson face off in the new artist of the year category, both with chart-topping hits and strong touring years under their belts.
Here are Billboard’s winners predictions (in select categories) from Melinda Newman (executive editor, West Coast and Nashville), and Jessica Nicholson (staff writer, Nashville). So they wouldn’t influence each other, the two did not compare notes on their picks.
Entertainer of the year
Newman: All the nominees had strong touring years coming out of COVID. Combs, the reigning entertainer of the year, has moved up to stadiums. Both Lambert and Underwood not only went on national tours, but opened highly acclaimed residencies in Las Vegas. But Wallen seems to have the wind under his wings after his arena tour was one of the year’s hottest tickets, and Nashville has embraced him again with fervor.
Will Win: Morgan Wallen
Nicholson: Since taking home the entertainer of the year honor for the first time last year, Combs has continued selling out headlining arena and stadium shows, earned chart-toppers on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart (“Doin’ This”) and Hot Country Songs (the four-week leader “The Kind of Love We Make”) and notched another Billboard Top Country Albums chart-topper with his latest project, Growin’ Up. Meanwhile, Lambert, Underwood and Stapleton have all had stellar years that between them have included album releases, tours and Las Vegas residencies. It’s Wallen who poses the toughest competition, notching his first EOY nomination this year on the strength of multiple chart-leaders on the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts in 2022, in addition to selling out arenas and stadium shows on his Dangerous Tour. But with Combs already set to take his touring international next year, he could very well pull off another win here.
Will win: Luke Combs
Single of the year:
Award goes to artist(s), producer(s) and mix engineer
“Buy Dirt” – Jordan Davis featuring Luke Bryan; producer: Paul DiGiovanni; mix engineer: Jim Cooley
“half of my hometown” – Kelsea Ballerini (feat. Kenny Chesney); producers: Kelsea Ballerini, Ross Copperman, Jimmy Robbins; mix engineer: Dan Grech-Marguerat
“Never Wanted to Be That Girl” – Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde; producers: Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne; mix engineer: Ryan Gore
“’Til You Can’t” – Cody Johnson; producer: Trent Willmon; mix engineer: Jack Clarke
“You Should Probably Leave” – Chris Stapleton; producers: Dave Cobb, Chris Stapleton; mix engineer: Vance Powell
Newman: All five entries struck a note with audiences and are worthy contenders and were bonafide hits. But country music loves its stories that celebrate wisdom, nostalgia, church, love and home; “Buy Dirt” ticks all the boxes. Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan’s warm delivery and Paul DiGiovanni’s genial, loping production sell this song, which topped Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and was named Nashville Songwriter Association International’s song of the year in September.
Will win: “Buy Dirt”
Nicholson: Texas native Johnson earned a two-week Country Airplay No. 1 (and nine-week Hot Country Songs No. 1) this year with the earnest, live every day to the fullest message in “’Til You Can’t.” “Buy Dirt” recently picked up song of the year at NSAI’s Nashville Songwriter Awards and was a two-week No. 1 Country Airplay hit. However, Stapleton is the reigning winner in this category, and is looking to retain his winning status with this sultry chart-topper. Still, “‘Til You Can’t” was a mainstay at country radio this year, pulling in strong listenership even after it fell from the pinnacle position.
Will win: “’Til You Can’t”
Female vocalist of the year:
Newman: The contenders had exemplary years, but Lainey Wilson, who leads all CMA nominees with six nods, has burst through with a vengeance after a few years of building. Like McBryde, she has an edge to her that is undeniably appealing and could signal a shift in where the format is headed. One of the toughest categories to call.
Will win: Lainey Wilson
Nicholson: Wilson has earned two No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hits this year, as well as notching a pair of top 25 hits on the same chart with “Heart Like a Truck” and the HARDY duet “wait in the truck,” and is the most-nominated artist heading into this year’s CMA Awards. This marks Underwood’s 16th nomination in this category (she’s previously won five times), following her release of Denim & Rhinestones. Meanwhile, Lambert, a seven-time winner in this category, released her progressive eighth album Palomino. and Pearce aims to continue her reign as the current female vocalist of the year — thanks to a No. 1 Country Airplay hit, “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” that she shares with fellow category nominee McBryde. This category feels a bit like anyone’s game to win, as newcomer Wilson also has a strong shot and could pick up her first win here, but newly minted Opry member Pearce has gained a strong following among industry voters since earning her first Country Airplay No. 1 in 2017 and is likely to pick up a second win.
Will win: Carly Pearce
Male vocalist of the year:
Newman: Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton have dominated this category the past seven years with Stapleton the reigning champ, but it feels like Nashville is ready to celebrate some new blood. There is no denying the power of such now standard bearers as Stapleton and Eric Church, but Texas titan Cody Johnson hit the mainstream this year with a powerful force. I smell an upset.
Will win: Cody Johnson
Nicholson: As with entertainer of the year, this category is likely a showdown between chart-dominating and hard-touring Combs and Wallen, though don’t rule out Stapleton, who has won this honor five previous times. Johnson has had an incredible touring year, plus the chart-topper “’Til You Can’t,” though that may not be enough for him to beat out category veterans such as Church, Stapleton and Combs. Wallen’s success on radio and touring has been undeniable. Look for him to pick up his first male vocalist win.
Will win: Morgan Wallen
New artist of the year:
Newman: Walker Hayes had a Top 10 hit in 2017 with “You Broke Up With Me,” so it’s a little odd to see him here five years later — but there’s no denying that last year’s “Fancy Like” brought him to a prominence that he had not previously attained. All contenders have landed at least one No. 1 song or album and continue to rise, but it feels like Wilson’s year.
Will win: Lainey Wilson
Nicholson: Hayes is still riding high on his long-waited breakthrough, thanks to the enduring crossover success of hits “Fancy Like,” “AA,” and “Y’all Life.” Johnson, who previously earned a nomination in this category in 2019, earned a radio juggernaut this year with “’Til You Can’t,” and has followed with the earnest “Human,” both from his double album. HARDY has been opening shows for buddy Morgan Wallen and expanding on his country releases with “Sold Out” reaching No. 1 on the Hot Hard Rock Songs chart. He’s also rising on the country chart with “Wait in the Truck,” featuring fellow category nominee Wilson. Meanwhile, the sole female nominee, Wilson, is riding high on an undeniably red-hot career streak right now, with a new album, the previously-mentioned two Country Airplay hits, an opening slot for Jon Pardi and a role on the new season of Yellowstone. Wilson leads the pack here.
Will win: Lainey Wilson
Album of the year:
Award goes to artist(s), producer(s) and mix engineer(s)
Growin’ Up – Luke Combs; producers: Luke Combs, Chip Matthews, Jonathan Singleton; mix engineers: Jim Cooley, Chip Matthews
Humble Quest – Maren Morris; producer: Greg Kurstin; mix engineer: Serban Ghenea
Palomino – Miranda Lambert; producers: Luke Dick, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall, Mikey Reaves; mix engineer: Jason Lehning
Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ – Lainey Wilson; producer: Jay Joyce; mix engineer: F. Reid Shippen
Time, Tequila & Therapy – Old Dominion; producers: Shane McAnally, Old Dominion; mix engineer: Justin Niebank
Newman: It’s three past winners — Luke Combs, Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert (the only double winner here) — versus newcomer Wilson, who receives her first nod, and Old Dominion, who have been here once before. Despite its critical acclaim, Lambert hasn’t had the radio success with Palomino that the other projects have earned, but that shouldn’t detract from the album’s merit. Wilson is the only artist here who also has a nomination in the prestigious song of the year category, but Combs is likely to return to the podium.
Will win: Luke Combs
Nicholson: Combs dominated this category in 2020 with What You See Is What You Get, while Lambert previously won for her albums Platinum and Revolution. Morris won the accolade in 2019 for Girl and was previously nominated in 2016 for Hero. Wilson’s six overall nominations in her first year as nominee includes this album of the year nod for Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, while Old Dominion was previously nominated in the category for their self-titled album in 2020. But Lambert is an expert at crafting solid albums and Palomino is no exception. She’s also a favorite with CMA voters, making her likely to pick up a win here.
Will win: Miranda Lambert
Vocal duo of the year:
Brooks & Dunn
Dan + Shay
Maddie & Tae
Newman: This would be a good time for some new duos to emerge. Like some of the other categories, a handful of acts — in this case, Dan + Shay and Brothers Osborne — have won the past six years, and both are nominated again. With Florida Georgia Line on hiatus, LoCash reclaims a spot, scoring their first nomination since 2017. I see this as a toss-up between equally worthy Dan + Shay and Brothers Osborne, with reigning champs Brothers Osborne emerging victorious.
Will win: Brothers Osborne
Nicholson: Maddie & Tae released the radio single “Woman You Got” in 2021, and followed with the two-part project Through the Madness this year, in addition to leading the CMT Next Women of Country All Song No Static Tour. But with the release of Brothers Osborne’s “Younger Me,” a song inspired by Brothers Osborne member TJ’s coming out journey, the duo has further cemented their place as a champion for inclusivity in country music, at a time when the country music industry as a whole continues to grapple with the topic. Brothers Osborne has won this category four times in recent years; look for them to continue their winning ways.
Will win: Brothers Osborne
Vocal group of the year:
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band
Newman: Lady A, Little Big Town and Old Dominion have dominated this category for the past 13 years, with Old Dominion victorious for the past four. While it feels like many of the categories are headed for a shake up, there isn’t a new face to challenge Old Dominion with this category being fairly static. Given their success with singles from Time, Tequila & Therapy, which is nominated for album of the year, they can clear space on their mantel for another trophy.
Will win: Old Dominion
Nicholson: Each of these groups released new music over the past year, with Zac Brown Band’s The Comeback debuting the highest on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. The group also earned a Country Airplay No. 1 in December with “Same Boat,” and recently added Caroline Jones to their band lineup, marking the group’s first female band member. Little Big Town has been on the road co-headlining The Bandwagon Tour with Miranda Lambert, while also bringing their glorious harmonies to support Wynonna Judd on select dates for The Judds: The Final Tour. Old Dominion has won in this category the past four years, and earned a platinum hit with “I Was on a Boat That Day,” so it seems they are the ones to beat.
Will win: Old Dominion
Song of the year:
Award goes to songwriters
“Buy Dirt” — songwriters: Jacob Davis, Jordan Davis, Josh Jenkins, Matt Jenkins
“Never Wanted to Be That Girl” –songwriters: Shane McAnally, Ashley McBryde, Carly Pearce
“Sand in My Boots” — songwriters: Ashley Gorley, Michael Hardy, Josh Osborne
“Things a Man Oughta Know” — songwriters: Jason Nix, Jonathan Singleton, Lainey Wilson
“You Should Probably Leave” — songwriters: Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley, Chris Stapleton
Newman: A songwriters’ award, three entries overlap with single of the year here: “Buy Dirt,” “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” and “You Should Probably Leave.” “You Should Probably Leave” is Chris Stapleton at his growly best as he attempts to resist temptation, but “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” is all raw nerves (and perhaps autobiographical) as Pearce finds out her partner is cheating on her and Ashley McBryde realizes she is sleeping with a married man. Instead of fighting over the cheater, as in 1990s’ Reba/Linda Davis classic “Does He Love You,” they both bond over their remorse. Wilson’s “Thing’s a Man Oughta Know” took best song honors at this spring’s ACM Awards, so it could sneak in here.
Will win: “Never Wanted to Be That Girl”
Nicholson: This year’s race pits a sultry ballad about temptation (“You Should Probably Leave”) against songs of betrayal (“Never Wanted to Be That Girl”), hard-earned wisdom (“Buy Dirt,” “Things a Man Oughta Know”) and heartbreak (“Sand in My Boots”). With a string of writers and recent award recognitions from NSAI, ASCAP and SESAC, look for “Buy Dirt” to notch a win.
Will win: “Buy Dirt”