At Tuesday night's BMI Awards in Nashville, we queried the stars on the red carpet about who they expected to win Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards tonight. We figured there would be a lot of hemming and hawing, because for the first time in memory, it seems like any of the five contenders has a legitimate shot at it. Luke Bryan seems like the man of the moment; Taylor Swift is arguably the biggest star in music right now, period; Blake Shelton got it last year, and isn't getting any less entertaining; Jason Aldean has been country's biggest breakout star of the last five years; and George Strait is a sentimental favorite.
A few of the artists did hesitate, but for many, if not most, the answer was on their lips before we could even get the question out: It'll be Luke Bryan.
But it's worth noting that several stars couldn't have been more emphatic that it'll be Strait, noting that this might representhis last real shot at picking up Entertainer of the Year, since he's retiring his road act after his current tour. Plus, he hasn't won it since 1990 or even been nominated in six years, so if there's a groundswell for a veteran and the kids split their votes, he might have a straight shot at the top.
But... naw. Bryan's got it in the bag, young whippersnapper or not, according to most of the folks we polled. Some of their comments:
JUSTIN MOORE "You can make a great case for any of ‘em, but I would probably guess Luke. I think he’s just kind of hotter than anybody right now. My sentimental favorite would be George, because it may be his last opportunity—maybe. I think if you asked any of the other people in that category, they’d probably say the same thing. They’d probably pull for George, too."
JOSH TURNER "Luke Bryan's been pretty hot here lately, so I’ve got a feeling the momentum will swing his way. But Blake, too — being on TV every week doesn’t hurt anything. I’d say it will probably be between the two of them."
LEE BRICE "Luke has found a niche, and a way to really dig in deep to a lot of folks. He’s done the same thing this year and stepped it up even more, exponentially. If I had to say one, I’d say Luke. He's a great friend. We came to town the same day, 13 years ago. We’ll be together (on tour) all next year. Hey, I’m pulling for Luke."
WILL HOGE (singer and co-writer of the Eli Young Band's "Even If It Breaks Your Heart") "That’s a hard one, because I feel like you could make an argument for any one of those to deserve it. They all do so much for this genre and this city. But I think at the end of the day, if not for sentimental reasons or just the amount of time that he’s done it, to take that away from George Strait I think would be wrong. If I were to win it when George Strait was nominated, I think to leave it up there for him and come and get would be the right thing to do. He certainly deserves it. I think on the ballot, if you vote for anybody else, it bursts into flames."
LUCY SHAW (Pretty Little Angels actress, now a country recording artist) "Luke Bryan had a pretty darned good year. Is that what everybody is saying? He seems like a nice dude and is obviously extremely talented. Who would I vote for? Oh, Luke. A huge fan."
KIP MOORE "I’ll go ahead and say Luke. Luke wins everything now, so I’m gonna say Luke all the way. It’s Luke’s time right now. But King George will always be king, and Luke’s got a long way to go to get to his status."
GREG BATES "I would love to see George Strait win it. I think he’s got some stiff competition, but it’s his final year, so I think we should give it to him, honestly. One last hurrah, totally. I actually did vote for George. I don’t know if we’re supposed to tell our votes or not. If I get tackled on my way out of here, I’ll let you know."
ASHLEY MONROE "Who’s up, Miranda? No? Then I want Blake to win. He works his ass off. Those are my two. Who else, though? George Strait? Oh, dang it. I’m still going with Blake. Blake or George for a tie, actually, because I respect George so much, and he’s been entertaining a lot longer."
JOSH THOMPSON "Being that it’s America and you can write your own ballot, can I go ahead and do that? I saw Merle Haggard for the eighth time about a month and a half ago in Bowling Green, and it’s still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I vote Merle Haggard for entertainer of the year, hands down."
JOEL CROUSE ("Why God Made Love Songs") "I’d like to see George Strait. I think it’d be really cool, just the intensity of it. He’s a legend. I’m hoping this is it. Sixty (No. 1s) for 60 (years of age), the whole big deal. He’s such a big influence on the genre, and also the songwriters love him. The cool thing about country music is how long artists can tour for."
LOCASH COWBOYS' CHRIS LUCAS "Can you vote for yourself if you’re not nominated? I can guess who it’s gonna be. I’m gonna say Taylor Swift. If you’ve seen her show, it’s unbelievable. Some people will say she wins all the time, but if you go to her show… she’s a true entertainer. She took country music to another level and brought millions of fans into our world. As songwriters, we love that, because it opens up a whole new world for country music. And the stories she writes are fantastic."
CHRIS JANSON (who co-wrote "Truck Yeah" with the LoCash Cowboys) "Luke. He’s a great guy and good friend, and you know what? That guy has worked his butt off from the ground up. They all have, to their own credit, but Luke, man, he’s got a special place in my heart. He’s a cool, real-deal country boy, and he really gives it all he’s got out there. Who doesn’t like to see Luke Bryan dance? It’s a special thing."
CHASE RICE ("Cruise" co-writer, Survivor: Nicaragua cast member) "I would say Luke if it were fan-voted, but I would say the industry might give it to someone else. I think Blake’s got a great shot at it. Luke’s obviously an easy answer, because he won at the ACMs, but I’m gonna go with Blake. He won it last year, when he didn't tour and was just doing The Voice, so he has an even better shot after touring."
Clara: "I think Jason Aldean will win."
Aaron: "I think Blake, honestly."
Brian: "I think this is George's year. The whole music industry and the fans literally want to say thank you to him. And at the BMI Awards tonight, they're honoring Dean Dillon, who's written scads of George Strait hits. This is his time."
Clara: "That's true, although I will say Jason Aldean has had a pretty dang awesome year as well. He's had hit after hit after hit, and he's been out there a lot."
Aaron: "But Blake is just hot..."
Clara: "You think Blake's hot?"
Aaron: "Not hot like that. Don't tell 'em I said that. People just really, really like Blake. It's like he can do no wrong. And I think he really embodies country music. He can lean toward a pop side in his sound, but he also has that traditional sound, and people appreciate that. But then there’s George, so I don’t know..."
HUNTER HAYES "I might hold off on that one. I'm not gonna give you an answer. I'm sorry. I don't pick favorites, man."
COLE SWINDELL (co-writer of Bryan's "Just a Sip") "I’m gonna go with my buddy Luke Bryan. I think he’s a great role model—and so are the other nominees—but Luke to me is a great entertainer. He can take a room that’s not interested at all and he’ll have them in the palm of his hand. Since the first time I’ve seen him play live, I’ve always thought he had that 'It' factor, and it seems like the rest of the country knows that now too."