Remember when the "best vocal group" category at the various country music awards shows was kind of a joke... because there virtually were no groups in country? But suddenly that's a particularly competitive category. Rascal Flatts pretty much had the category to themselves for the seven consecutive years they won, before they were supplanted two years ago by Lady Antebellum. Now the nominations are rounded out by two acts that have quickly become among the biggest in country: the Band Perry and the Zac Brown Band.
Which pretty much leaves first-time nominees the Eli Young Band as the underdogs in the category. Or are they? Because they did just happen to have the biggest country song of 2011, in the form of "Crazy Girl," and that's an honor that not even a behemoth like Lady A can claim. It certainly makes the Eli Young Band contenders in the Single and Song of the Year categories, where they're also modestly storming the gates for the first time.
"The whole thing with the group category— things have really changed," singer Mike Eli told Yahoo! Music on Friday after getting into Las Vegas for the awards. "And I think that country music has really embraced the idea of bands and groups a lot more recently. As far as who we're up against in the group category, everyone's had incredible years— incredible careers. And we're kind of the underdog new guy. We feel really ucky we're included in the group with Zac Brown and Rascal Flatts and Lady A and everybody. The Band Perry, they've had a huge year. So that category's pretty incredible these days."
Okay, so Eli almost talked us out of the idea that his outfit could pull off an upset. Still... the biggest country song of 2011... we're just sayin'.
No one will mistake the Eli Young Band for an overnight sensation. They released their first album in 2002, even if they're new artists to most country fans, and their breakthrough album, last year's Life at Best, was their fourth. So this isn't their first time at this particular rodeo—meaning the ACMs—even if it is their first shot at being nominees and presenters.
"We've been to the ACMs... five times?" says Eli. "Four or five. The first time we came to the ACMs we were buried back almost in the nosebleeds. So now that we're nominated, we're hoping our seats are a little closer than that this year. But we were pretty far back that first year we came at the ACMs."
"We had a couple training-wheels years, for sure," chimes in bass player Jon Jones.
"Yeah," agrees Eli, "they finally took off our training wheels."