If one can take anything away from the nominations for the 52nd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, which were announced this morning (Feb. 16), it would be that the format has had a banner year. While new acts such as Maren Morris have added excitement to the format, several long-standing favorites such as Keith Urban, who leads the pack with seven nominations, continue to make music that is finding favor with fans and radio.
While all five of the entertainer of the year nominees (Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban) have all had experience in this category, a look at the Male and Female categories reveal a little bit of new blood.
Thomas Rhett rides his unbelievable wave of success into the Male Vocalist category, which features last years' winner, Chris Stapleton, along with Aldean, Urban, and Dierks Bentley. Though Stapleton is the industry darling these days, the ACM usually looks to set new trends with their awards -- a reason to think that perennial nominee Bentley might break through this year.
In the female vocalist category, the banner year of Maren Morris continues. The singer netted her first nomination in this category, and after winning her first Grammy for best country solo performance (for her hit "My Church"), she could very well walk away with the prize. The interesting thing here will be if the fact that Morris, Underwood, and Miranda Lambert - all recording artists under the Sony umbrella - might cancel each other out. It's been a career year for Underwood though, so seeing her reclaim this one seems very possible.
In the vocal group and vocal duo category, there doesn't seem to be any major surprises. I think that Little Big Town will continue to dominate the Group category, while Duo should be interesting. Florida Georgia Line saw the CMA Award in this category taken by Brothers Osborne. This one could be very much up in the air - but odds would seem to favor Florida Georgia Line, with their five overall nominations.
In the single and song of the year categories, there were a few interesting names among the list. Keith Urban scored his biggest hit in a while with "Blue Ain't Your Color" -- and he scored a couple of nominations here, where his name had been absent for a while. Lambert returned to the fold with a pair of nods for her gripping "Vice," and Tim McGraw's "Humble and Kind" hit for Big Machine could very well wind up in the winners' circle, making things interesting with the singer's recent signing to Sony. One nomination that was kind of surprising -- seeing that covers don't usually net inclusion -- was "Tennessee Whiskey" in the Song category. Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove penned the song, which hit No. 2 in 1983 for George Jones, and was covered by Stapleton on Traveller.
Look for an interesting race or album of the year. Lambert's The Weight Of These Wings has been her most critically acclaimed work, but Morris seems to have the hot hand as of late. At the same time, it wouldn't be surprising to see Urban's Ripcord -- the most musically adventurous set of his career take this one home.
Video of the year also looks to be an interesting battle. Stapleton's clip for "Fire Away" was sobering, and Kelsea Ballerini's "Peter Pan" video was one of the more stunning from a visual aspect. Does the ACM hand the award over to the star-packed "Forever Country," which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards -- which also netted a nod in the Vocal Event category? Should be a fun one to watch!
And, in the new artist categories, look for the male and duo/group fields to be very competitive. If you look at the male category, Chris Janson, Kane Brown and Brett Young are all fierce contenders. New vocal duo or group will likely come down to Brothers Osborne and Dan + Shay, with the critical acclaim of the former being the difference. For female newcomer, while it's hard to argue the talents of Brandy Clark, after Morris' whirlwind year it seems she's a no-brainer for this award.
As far as snubs, the omission of Blake Shelton surprised me a bit. The singer -- very popular with fans due to his exposure on The Voice -- has had an impressive year with his If I'm Honest album. Kenny Chesney did garner a nomination for his Pink collaboration "Setting The World On Fire" for vocal event of the year, but in a year where he toured, not seeing his name in the entertainer of the year list -- or Garth Brooks, for that matter in the top five.
The 52nd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be hosted by nominees Bryan and Bentley, and will be broadcast live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 2 (live 8:00-11:00 PM, ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. Check out all of the nominees here.