Advertisement

It’s the biggest week in the country music world, with the CMA Awards set to be handed out in Nashville on Wednesday, Nov. 8. The talent pool is deep among this year’s nominees, and there almost certainly will be the inevitable snubs, surprises and upsets. But to get a handle on the most likely winners, Rare Country gathered its most seasoned country music journalists — Tricia Despres, Hunter Kelly, Tammy Ragusa and Phyllis Stark — and set about making our predictions for the night in 11 key categories. Here’s who we think will take home the trophies, and why. And, spoiler alert: we don’t always agree with each other either! Makes for some fun debates around the office.


RELATEDCMA Awards hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood reflect on nine years of epic laughs

Entertainer of the Year
Garth Brooks
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban
Our pick: Garth Brooks

HK: Reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Garth Brooks crossed the six million-ticket mark on his three-year “World Tour” this past year, and has now scored a major radio hit with “Ask Me How I Know.” With the North American leg of his tour wrapping up in Nashville in December, a sixth win in this category for Garth would put a nice bow on this unprecedented run of shows.

PS: This is a tough field full of deserving nominees who all worked the road hard this year. Eric defined the word “entertainer,” putting on shows lasting more than three hours with no opening act on his “Holdin’ My Own Tour,” but so did Garth, who often played two shows in one day to accommodate fan demand for tickets. Garth is the CMA’s reigning Entertainer, and it’s his to lose again this year.

TR: Dang. These are all great artists who had remarkable years, but I’m going to have to go with Garth. He took a decade off to raise his babies and came back with an amazing show that sells out multiple nights in every city. Did I say the show was amazing? It bears saying again … Garth’s show is AH-MAY-ZING!

TD: There is a certain magic surrounding Keith Urban this year, and this magic just might give Keith his first CMA Entertainer of the Year win since 2005. He continues to break the mold of country music in the most courteous and professional of ways, and this year, he will be rewarded for it.

Album of the Year
“The Breaker,” Little Big Town
“From A Room: Volume 1,” Chris Stapleton
“Heart Break,” Lady Antebellum
“The Nashville Sound,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
“The Weight of These Wings,” Miranda Lambert
Our unanimous pick: Miranda Lambert

TD: Miranda Lambert broke her heart wide open and placed all of the pieces on “The Weight of These Wings.” And both critics and fans alike suddenly realized that we are all broken in one way or another. Miranda Lambert will be shedding tears on Nov. 8.

TR: It’s definitely one of those years where all the nominees deserve to be in these categories. I love all of these artists, but there’s something so special about Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings.” It’s full of all the honesty, sass, heartbreak and angst we’ve come to expect from her, but it also took her to the next level as a songwriter. And the music is utterly timeless.

HK: Miranda has won this category twice before, and there’s no reason to believe she won’t earn a third Album of the Year trophy for her highly-personal and ambitious double LP, “The Weight of These Wings.” Still, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s socially conscious offering, “The Nashville Sound,” could pull off a dark horse upset here.

PS: This is an industry-voted award, and the industry just can’t heap enough accolades on Miranda Lambert. Her platinum certified double album is the sure bet here. But Chris Stapleton’s critically acclaimed set is the most likely to give it some tough competition from voters.

Female Vocalist of the Year
Kelsea Ballerini
Miranda Lambert
Reba McEntire
Maren Morris
Carrie Underwood
Our pick: Miranda Lambert

PS: I’m thrilled to see Reba back in this category for the first time since 2010, but Miranda and Carrie are the front-runners here, with Miranda most likely to win the industry’s vote for what would be the seventh time.

TR: I’m such a fan of all of these ladies, but I think Miranda stands a good chance at this win. She had a remarkable year musically and has shown such grace personally. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans or the voting industry.

TD: As much as I would love to see Maren Morris or Kelsea Ballerini shock everyone by taking this category, they have plenty of time in their career to do so. This year, like all the others, this one has got Miranda Lambert’s name all over it.

HK: I would love to see Kelsea Ballerini pull off a win here. She’s coming off a wildly successful debut album, “The First Time,” which produced both up-tempo and introspective hit singles. With the recent release of her sophomore album, “Unapologetically,” Kelsea emerges as a major player with staying power in the country format.

Male Vocalist of the Year
Dierks Bentley
Eric Church
Thomas Rhett
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban
Our unanimous pick: Thomas Rhett

HK: I think Thomas Rhett has a good shot at winning this category for the first time after his surprise Male Vocalist win at the ACM Awards earlier this year. If the success of his “Home Team Tour” is any indication, you can look for Thomas to show up in the Entertainer of the Year category soon, too.

TR: All of gentlemen are so deserving, but I think young Thomas Rhett could take the trophy in this category. Besides the fact that the other four artists are all on the same record label, thus splitting the votes, T-Rhett has just had an amazing year with hit singles and a headline tour. And he seems to always be thinking ahead, which is so exciting for those watching him grow.

PS: What a group! The industry couldn’t possibly make a bad choice here. But Thomas Rhett has had so much career momentum in 2017 that he just might pull off an upset here over some of the more veteran artists.

TD: It’s been a fairy tale year for Thomas Rhett, both onstage and off. He is the future of country music, and has country music roots that can’t be denied. It’s Thomas Rhett’s time to take this one.

Vocal Group of the Year
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Old Dominion
Rascal Flatts
Zac Brown Band
Our pick: Tied between Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town

HK: Lady Antebellum reached a new level for me with their 2017 live show. The high-energy set was punctuated by a horn section joining the band on several songs, and it made for a whole lot of fun for everyone in the audience. You could tell Lady A had a blast, too. I’d love to see that rewarded here.

PS: Nice to see Old Dominion freshening up this category, but this one is going to come down to a race between Lady A and Little Big Town. We’re giving the edge to the latter, which has won this prize for the past five consecutive years.

TD: Lady Antebellum accomplished a feat that few have ever been able to pull off — they took a break, gave solo careers a try and came back to chart success. If that’s not enough a reason for a Lady A return in the winner category I don’t know what is.

TR: Their career has grown and grown, and it shows no signs of stopping. But that’s not the reason I’m picking Little Big Town. They’re just that good. Musically versatile, dynamic and engaging, they are confident in who they are and what they do, and it shows.

Vocal Duo of the Year
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
LOCASH
Maddie & Tae
Brothers Osborne
Our pick: Florida Georgia Line

TR: People are going to be surprised by my pick, but this George Strait and Merle Haggard-loving girl is going with Florida Georgia Line. The bane of any artist’s success is stagnation, and I commend BK and THubbs for making an incredibly gentle, but noticeable evolution from boys to men in their careers.

TD: Florida Georgia Line more than deserves to take this one easily. Their heavier songwriting talents on “Dig Your Roots,” along with their work with artists across the musical spectrum have us not only eyeing a Vocal Duo win, but also an EOTY sometime soon. Who would have thunk?

HK: Florida Georgia Line was robbed with “H.O.L.Y.” not receiving a Single or Song of the Year nod this year. Let’s hope the CMA voters recognize that massive hit with a win here.

PS: Florida Georgia Line had the hands-down most successful year of any of these duos, and previously won this award three times. But Brothers Osborne are industry darlings, as well as last year’s winner in this category. I think they could pull it off again.

New Artist of the Year
Luke Combs
Old Dominion
Jon Pardi
Brett Young
Lauren Alaina
Our pick: Jon Pardi

HK: Jon Pardi is the favorite here with three No. 1 hits under his belt. His California-bred brand of classic country offers a welcome change from the pop-influenced sound dominating the airwaves for the past years.

PS: The only thing that would make this category better is if there were more women in it. Most of these nominees pulled off multiple No. 1 hits this year, but Jon Pardi brought back a traditional sound that was warmly welcomed, and is most likely to get the nod here.

TR: It breaks my heart to choose in this category because these young artists are all deserving, but I’m going with Jon Pardi. Not only has he experienced incredible success this past year, he’s done it on his terms. Jon’s sound is what I consider bona fide country, but it’s also arranged and produced in a way that makes it sound contemporary. I dig.

TD: The lone princess in a field of princes, Lauren Alaina’s fairy tale story will have her concluding her year with a New Artist of the Year win. Her look, her talent and her camaraderie with fans make her an incredible ambassador for country music going into the future. She is the ultimate “never give up” story and, this year, she will be awarded for it.

Song of the Year
“Better Man,” Little Big Town
“Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban
“Body Like A Back Road,” Sam Hunt
“Dirt On My Boots,” Jon Pardi
“Tin Man,” Miranda Lambert
Our pick: Tie between the men: “Better Man” and “Tin Man”

TD: The topsy-turvy style of “Better Man” got everyone’s immediate attention, and serves as yet another example of Taylor Swift’s untouchable lyric writing. Plus, if there was any way to bring Taylor back into the country crosshairs, this would be it.

HK: It’s hard to deny the raw honesty of Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man.” The winners in this category have traditionally been more serious-minded, and I think “Tin Man” has the weight to stand beside previous winners such as “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and Miranda’s own “Over You.”

TR: Nashville’s songwriting community shines bright in this category because all of these songs are winners, but I’m going to have to give it to Little Big Town’s “Better Man” written by Taylor Swift. And as public as Taylor’s personal life has been, there probably isn’t a woman alive who hasn’t felt the angst that this tune is about.

PS: Interesting to note that the Song and Single of the Year categories are identical this year. That’s unusual. But since “Song” honors the craft of writing, our pick here is Miranda’s “Tin Man,” which she wrote with fellow artist-writers Jack Ingram and Jon Randall. “Better Man,” written solely by Taylor Swift, could be a dark horse here.

Single of the Year
“Better Man,” Little Big Town
“Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban
“Body Like A Back Road,” Sam Hunt
“Dirt On My Boots,” Jon Pardi
“Tin Man,” Miranda Lambert
Our unanimous pick: Sam Hunt

HK: “Body Like a Back Road” is the longest-running No. 1 ever on the “Billboard” Hot Country Songs chart, with 34 weeks on top. That fact alone makes it the Single of the Year. It’s also catchy as all get out.

TR: “Body Like a Back Road” was probably the biggest song of the year, and it has really stood the test of time. Almost a year after its release, it’s still sounding as fresh as it did in the beginning.

TD: While this category is packed with worthy candidates, Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” has some unmatchable stats that just might make this a shoe-in for a win.

PS: Absolutely no song on this list had the success and chart longevity that “Body Like A Back Road” enjoyed this year. If it loses, it would be an injustice for Sam.

Music Video of the Year
Little Big Town, “Better Man”
Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
Thomas Rhett feat. Maren Morris, “Craving You”
Miranda Lambert, “Vice”
Brothers Osborne, “It Ain’t My Fault”
Our pick: Too close to call

PS: Both Brothers Osborne and the Thomas/Maren combo pulled off fantastic, cinematic videos that unspooled like mini-movies. If you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor and watch. The comic addition of robbers in U.S. president masks could push “It Ain’t My Fault” over the top … in more ways than one!

TR: This is like picking your favorite child. I love all of these artists and all of these songs so much, but I think the industry will go with Miranda Lambert’s “Vice.” Like the song, it’s moody and gritty. And Miranda? Well, she’s just stunning.

TD: Country music videos come and go, but Keith Urban’s video paired with the unique melody of “Blue Ain’t Your Color” stands out from the rest, and will be remembered long after the final award is handed out.

HK: I’ve gotta go with Brother Osborne’s “It Ain’t My Fault.” It’s just so funny watching pawnshop robbers on the run while wearing President Obama, Clinton and Trump masks.

Musical Event of the Year
“Craving You,” Thomas Rhett feat. Maren Morris
“Funny How Time Slips Away,” Glen Campbell with Willie Nelson
“Kill A Word,” Eric Church feat. Rhiannon Giddens
“Setting the World on Fire,” Kenny Chesney feat. Pink
“Speak to a Girl,” Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
Our pick: “Craving You”

PS: “Craving You” was both a massive hit and an inspired pairing of two hotter than hot young artists. While we loved the message of “Speak to a Girl,” TR and Maren are likely to take this one home.

TR: I’m going to have to give this one to Thomas Rhett and Maren. It’s fun as heck seeing two young, relatively new artists take a chance and go balls to the wall with such an in-your-face song. They did it well and gracefully. I’m a fan of this pairing!

TD: When a country music powerhouse pairs up with another country music powerhouse who also happens to be his wife, it’s enough to create an awards show explosion. Tim and Faith create an inferno every time they are within inches of each other, and on Nov. 8, they will be recognized for it.

RELATEDCMA Awards co-host Brad Paisley weighs in on the “challenging” show ahead

How did we do in our predictions? To find out, check out “The 51st Annual CMA Awards” airing live on ABC on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. (ET), and be sure to let us know your own picks in the comments.

Check out our CMA Awards predictions. Who will win? Who should win? Getty Images/Ethan Miller
Author placeholder image About the author:

Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry and subscribe to our YouTube channel. We would love to see y’all there.

View More Articles
Vote for the 2017 Rare Country Awards
Advertisement
Advertisement