Fletcher Foster, co-producer of the American Country Awards, has heard the question over and over the past few weeks: Do we really need another country music awards show?
"I think it's interesting that that's become a question from several people," Foster said. "When you look at how many award shows there are in other genres like R&B, you've got the Soul Trains, you've got BET, you've got tons of other award shows in other formats. For some reason in country music, I think it's become more of an industry question than a consumer question. Consumers just want to see their artists on TV, I think."
They'll get a heavy dose of that when the inaugural awards show airs Monday night on Fox from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. There are 18 performances crammed into the two-hour show — so many they're only giving out a third of the show's 15 awards on air.
The show will feature today's stars — Rascal Flatts, Reba and Keith Urban — but also has a heavy dose of young talent, like lead nominee Easton Corbin, The Band Perry and Steel Magnolia. Foster hopes that leads to something special.
"Hopefully we'll be able to break an artist through this show," Foster said. "That's the goal. I call it 'The Ricky Martin Moment' because I remember exactly where I was at the Grammys the year he performed 'Livin' La Vida Loca,' and that moment totally changed his career. At that moment it was the watercooler conversation that everybody was having."
The ACAs drew the ire of CMT when organizers announced it as the only entirely fan-voted show. CMT's country video awards have long been determined by fans and the Academy of Country Music also has fan-voted components. While the method may have been debated, there's no question the ACA approach is a little different.
Traditional categories like artist of the year are broken into several components, like male artist and female artist of the year. and the ACAs also hand out awards for things like touring.
Host Trace Adkins said he had the same reaction as everyone else when he first heard about the ACAs: "Really? Another awards show?" But as details came out he warmed up to the idea.
"This show is an opportunity for the fans to speak and for the fans to vote," Adkins said. "And you know it's about time we have an awards show that the winners are not chosen by industry insiders that may have a political agenda or their own personal motivation (and) vote for whoever makes them the most money. It's voted on by the fans."
The ACAs also offer a chance to watch Adkins stretch into a new role. The imposing singer with the rumbling voice has made small ventures into the world of acting, but this will be the first time he's out there in front of everyone for two hours. Adkins has a wicked sense of humor but often plays the straight man when on stage. Not so this time. Even Adkins wonders how it will go.
"I don't know how it's going to come off," Adkins said. "I mean this may be my first and last hosting gig ever. Well, I hosted a Christmas party at my house one time, so this is like my second. But this may be the last one."
Several of country music's biggest stars say they're excited about the show. December is usually a quiet time in the industry, but they'll summon the energy for one more go.
Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, tied for the most nominations at seven with Corbin, thinks the ACAs are a great idea for two reasons.
"Any excuse for us to go hang out with everybody, hang out with the fans, hang out with the other artists, it's exciting," Kelley said. "And I love Vegas."