Two unlikely artists are in the running for CMA Awards on Thursday. Pop veteran Kelly Clarkson is a surprise finalist for Female Vocalist of the Year. Rap icon Snoop Dogg is up for Musical Event of the Year for his role in Willie Nelson's "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die," which also features Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson. Snoop Dogg (a.k.a. Snoop Lion) has collaborated with everyone from Dr. Dre and Akon to Katy Perry and the Pussycat Dolls. But country is a stretch. He would be one of the most unlikely artists ever to win a CMA Award.
Clarkson and Jason Aldean won a CMA award at last year's show for their smash "Don't You Wanna Stay." The song, which spent three weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs in March 2011, won as Musical Event of the Year. Clarkson landed her first major country hit in 2007 when she and Reba McEntire teamed for a duet version of Clarkson's 2005 pop hit "Because Of You." The remake reached #2 on the country chart and was nominated for a CMA Award. But Clarkson has yet to record a country album or have a big country hit that wasn't a duet.
(A third CMA nominee this year, Lionel Richie, has stronger country credentials. He wrote and produced Kenny Rogers' 1980 country smash "Lady." His 1984 hit "Stuck On You" became a moderate country hit. He had a top 10 country hit in 1987 with "Deep River Woman," which featured Alabama. But of course he's best known for pop and R&B. He's nominated this year for Musical Event of the Year for a remake of "Stuck On You" featuring Darius Rucker. It's featured on his album Tuskegee, which reached #1 on both The Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums.)
Here are 10 unlikely CMA winners through the years.
Julio Iglesias. The Latin heartthrob teamed with country legend Willie Nelson to win Vocal Duo of the Year in 1984. Their crossover smash, "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," spent two weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs in May 1984. The unlikely duet partners returned to the top 10 the following year with a second duet, "Spanish Eyes."
Jason Alexander. The Seinfeld co-star and sometime director won in 2007 for directing Brad Paisley's music video for "Online," which won as Music Video of the Year. Alexander also appeared in the video as the geeky son of William Shatner and Estelle Harris. Paisley's single reached #1 on Hot Country Songs in September 2007.
Robert Plant. The former lead singer of Led Zeppelin teamed with Alison Krauss to win Musical Event of the Year in 2008 for "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)." The song was from their album Raising Sand, which reached #2 on both The Billboard 200 and Top Country Albums in 2007.
Andy Griffith. The TV icon teamed with Brad Paisley in the 2008 music video, "Waitin' On A Woman," which won as Music Video of the Year. Paisley's single reached #1 on Hot Country Songs in September 2008.
Marie Osmond. Osmond is best known as a TV personality and one half of Donny & Marie, so you may have forgotten that she had a series of country hits in the 1970s and 1980s. Osmond was just 14 in November 1973 when she landed a #1 country hit with a remake of Anita Bryant's "Paper Roses." Twelve years later, she and Dan Seals teamed for "Meet Me In Montana," which reached #1 on Hot Country Songs in October 1985. They won as Vocal Duo of the Year in 1986. It turns she really is "a little bit country."
Jimmy Buffett. The pop veteran teamed with Alan Jackson to win Vocal Event of the Year in 2003 for "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." The song was #1 on Hot Country Songs for eight weeks in the summer of 2003. Buffett's biggest country hit until then was his 1977 pop smash "Margaritaville," which reached #13 on the country chart. Jackson & Buffett recorded a new version of that song in 1999. In 2004, Jackson and four other country stars backed Buffett on a remake of Hank Williams' 1951 hit "Hey Good Lookin." It became a top 10 hit. In 2011, Buffett was featured on Zac Brown Band's #1 country hit, "Knee Deep."
Darius Rucker. Rucker has been a major country star since 2008. He has logged five #1 hits on Hot Country Songs. He even won the CMA's Horizon Award in 2009. But in the big picture, his second career in country after hitting it big in the 1990s with the pop/rock band Hootie & the Blowfish was unexpected.
Rick Rubin. The versatile producer, who has worked with everyone from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Dixie Chicks, won two awards in 2003 for his work with Johnny Cash. American IV: The Man Comes Around was voted Album of the Year. Cash's haunting cover version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" took Single of the Year (even though it stalled at #56 on Hot Country Songs).
Grace Potter. The lead singer of the rock band Grace Potter & the Nocturnals was featured on Kenny Chesney's 2011 hit "You And Tequila," which reached #3 on Hot Country Songs. She also appeared in the video, which won a CMA Award for Music Video of the Year. Potter also sings a background vocal on Chesney's current hit, "El Cerrito Place."
Dave Loggins. Loggins, who had a top five pop hit in 1974 with the tender ballad "Please Come To Boston," is Kenny Loggins' cousin. He was featured on Anne Murray's "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do," which reached #1 on Hot Country Songs in December 1984. It brought them the award for Vocal Duo of the Year in 1985. (It's a small world: Kenny Loggins wrote two of Murray's biggest hits, "Danny's Song" and "Love Song.")