Country's new young stars on display at ACM Awards
This March 8, 2012 photo shows Hunter Hayes, left, Brantley Gilbert, center, and Scotty McCreery, right, in Nashville, Tenn. The fan-voted top new artist category at the Academy of Country Music Awards features all three. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Young male country music stars are as rare as pink pickups these days.
While young female stars have been rising with some regularity in country music, young men find the going tough and the fans locked up by established stars who've been popular for a decade or longer. There are so few they're often nominated twice for new artist awards out of necessity. This year's Academy of Country Music Awards, however, offers a glimpse into the future of country's newest male stars.
The fan-voted top new artist category features three acts this year — platinum-selling teen "Idol" Scotty McCreery, former child prodigy Hunter Hayes and the rockin' hitmaker Brantley Gilbert.
They share youth in common, but little else. Each occupies a different niche in the scene, making music that satisfies different parts of the country audience.
"It's really cool because there is a nice little diversity," Hayes said. "There's a totally different thing between what Scotty and I do and a totally different thing between what Brantley and I do, which is fun. We do cover totally different ends of the genre but that shows you how far it spreads, and I love that. I love to see that."
At 27, Gilbert is the steely veteran of the group, but still young in a genre where the male stars are almost all in their mid-30s or older. He's been at it for years, building his name in the bar scene around the Southeast.
"I was lucky enough to get started way, way early, you know, playing small bars and trying to start a fire goin' that way," Gilbert said. "So it's been a long time coming, I feel like."
Gilbert was writing future hits in his early 20s and cashed in when Jason Aldean took his "My Kinda Party" and "Dirt Road Anthem" to the top of the country charts last year. He also delivered his own No. 1 to radio with "Country Must Be Country Wide," a theme song for modern country fans, from his second album, "Halfway to Heaven."
This March 8, 2012 photo shows Scotty McCreery in Nashville, Tenn. McCreery is one of several male performers included in the fan-voted top new artist category at the Academy of Country Music Awards. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Gilbert embodies the sound championed by Aldean, Eric Church and others who honed a rock-inflected brand of hard country that's as indebted to Guns 'N Roses and Metallica as it is to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. From Jefferson, Ga., he speaks laconically in a deeply accented rumble and looks the part of 21st century country star, and fans have enthusiastically latched on.