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The fans have spoken, and they spoke loud and clear.

Because when the winners for the inaugural Rare Country Awards were announced on Dec. 15, along with it came a very loud proclamation regarding the future of country music.

With each and every vote cast, country fans proved that sometimes in this genre, statistics and numbers and really long spreadsheets really have nothing to do with how a country artist can make their fans feel. Ultimately, how they the artists change their fans’ lives, simply by being themselves, speaks the loudest.

Recently, the Rare Country staff came together to give their thoughts on each category, and how the results just might affect each artist’s career going into 2017.


CARRIE UNDERWOOD

“Female Artist of the Year”

“Tour of the Year”

Hunter Kelly: In a career that’s been going non-stop since 2005, Carrie Underwood managed to reach new heights in 2016. Between her stellar awards shows performances and non-stop stream of hits from “Storyteller,” Carrie was everywhere this year. It was really the Storyteller Tour that put it over the top for our readers. The massive show featured 10 years worth of hits and some of the best lighting and video production of any concert on the road in any genre of music.

Tricia Despres: I’m not sure if it was the confidence of a crazy successful career, the love of her adorable family, or the strength that being a mom, business woman and superstar can give someone, but Carrie seemed to command the stage of her record-breaking The Storyteller Tour: Stories in the Round in a whole new way. And her fans took notice.

RELATED: Carrie Underwood shined brighter than ever in 2016


BLAKE SHELTON

“Male Artist of the Year”

“Story of the Year”

Hunter Kelly: Blake Shelton’s stream of hits just doesn’t slow down, and this year saw the release of his most provocative singles ever. With all the news surrounding his divorce from Miranda Lambert and new relationship with Gwen Stefani, interest was running high as Blake released his new album, “If I’m Honest.” The singles from that project, including “Came Here to Forget” and “She’s Got a Way with Words,” spoke directly to Blake’s personal life. The fans appreciated that.

Melinda Lorge: With so many rumors swirling about his personal life, Blake kept his mind centered on his professional life and let his music do the talking. His incredible song called “Came Here to Forget” was the perfect comeback song that summed up everything for us and makes us want to hear more from the country crooner in 2017.

RELATED: Blake Shelton reflects on this special memory he made with Gwen Stefani


JOEY+RORY

“Vocal Duo/Group of the Year”

Tricia Despres: The world lost Joey Feek in 2016. But, what we didn’t lose was the music she left us with and the lessons she taught us all during her courageous battle against cancer. And because of that, the fans voted Joey+Rory as Duo/Group of the Year in the inaugural Rare Country Awards. As we head into 2017, there will be no new music from Joey+Rory and no shows on their schedule. But, there will be little Indiana’s smile, Rory’s blog and countless ways that we can all ensure that Joey lives on in all of our lives.

Tammy Ragusa: There’s one sure thing, one guarantee in country music — these fans have heart. They want the songs they hear and the artists they see to make them feel something. They also want their own voices to be heard. While industry awards passed over Joey + Rory for duos and groups who had more commercial success, fans insisted that this heartbreaking and magical story be recognized for the effect that it had on the entire country music community. It’s bittersweet, but we’re so proud of our voters for this one.


KANE BROWN

“New Artist of the Year”

Tricia Despres: Rare Country was one of the first media outlets that began to see the Kane train coming down the tracks back in 2015, as countless fans began alerting us to the kid with the crazy cool country voice. You see, the fans were right all along. Kane has a God-given voice paired with a humble personality and a true respect for the country music of yesteryear. And because of that, no one deserves this award more.

Tammy Ragusa: This is one interesting cat. His live shows and recordings prove that he has one ear on what his hip, young fans love and what contemporary country sounds like, but he’s also keenly aware of the roots of country music and how his influences — contemporary and traditional — meld to make his hybrid sound. Fans dig that they can see that high-energy urban country sound at his shows, but they get his tributes to tradition on social media.


SCOTTY MCCREERY

“Grand Ole Opry Moment of the Year”

Tricia Despres: Up against tough competition, including performances from Cole Swindell, Carrie Underwood, RaeLynn and Toby Keith, Scotty led the way in the fan-voted category for his tear-inducing rendition of his song “Five More Minutes” back in June 2016. It’s also a good sign for Scotty going into 2017, as the country cutie prepares to take the genre by storm with new music and a new attitude.

Tammy Ragusa: You’d be hard pressed to find any group of fans as devoted as McCreerians! But come on, he deserves it because he loves his fans just as much. Scotty is such a fun, light-hearted guy that when we saw his vulnerable side performing “Five More Minutes” at the Opry, it was one of the biggest goose bump moments ever. It bonded him for eternity to his loyal following and created a community of new fans, too.


MIRANDA LAMBERT

“Fan Moment of the Year”

Hunter Kelly: Let’s face it, “The House That Built Me” is just about impossible to get through without crying. We’ve seen Miranda Lambert get choked up performing this song many times, but watching her reaction to this soldier’s sign took the song to a whole new level. The soldier’s sign, which he held up at a concert in Connecticut, let Miranda know her music had brought him a little piece of home while he was serving overseas. Miranda just lost it, and we were crying right along with her. These are the moments that truly make country music unique from other genres.

Melinda Lorge: Miranda has always played the tough talking Texan role as a country star. But these days, she’s shown a more gentle side that’s become quite endearing. However, this moment has even us crying. It wasn’t just the poster that had us choked up. It was Miranda’s perfect reaction to what was written on the poster that made it all worthwhile, because it truly showed how much of an impact country music can have on a fan who is literally waiting for the day when they can see their family again.

All in all, the results of the Rare Country Awards confirmed what we have always known — there is no other love like the love country fans have for their favorite artists. No matter what music they put out or how many times they reach the top of the charts, these artists receive an unconditional love that is unmatched in any other genre. And it’s this love that Rare Country looks forward to continuing to shine a light on in 2017.

Tricia Despres is the contributing editor for Rare Country, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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