Music

CMA Awards Predictions: Who Will Win Big This Year

Getty Images

Wednesday night marks the 50th anniversary of the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards. Dubbed “Country Music’s Biggest Night,” this year’s ceremony will include performances by country greats from decades past will perform during the show, including sets by Alan Jackson, George Strait, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and more.

The CMA Awards is a big deal for most country artists. Both rising and established artists who win the evening’s top honors typically see a post-CMA boost to their careers. Here’s who we think may take home the top awards this year.

Entertainer of the Year

Garth Brooks

Luke Bryan

Chris Stapleton

Carrie Underwood

Keith Urban

Underwood’s No. 1 album, Storyteller, and her accompanying tour were massive successes. Brooks arguably had a bigger tour run, but didn’t release a popular album. Stapleton, Bryan and Urban haven’t reached the same commercial success, which is usually the deciding factor for this award.

Single of the Year

“Die a Happy Man,” Thomas Rhett 

“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw

“My Church,” Marren Morris

“Nobody to Blame,” Chris Stapleton

“Record Year,” Eric Church

This was Thomas Rhett’s breakthrough year, and “Die a Happy Man” was the song that pushed him through the door. If the CMA voters are looking at an impact on a career plus commercial sales, they’ll pick this one. The single spent more than five consecutive weeks at No. 1, and as of August, it had 1,548,000 downloads.

Album of the Year

Black, Dierks Bentley

Hero, Maren Morris

Mr. Misunderstood, Eric Church

Ripcord, Keith Urban

Storyteller, Carrie Underwood

Rising star Maren Morris had one of the strongest albums of the year, and of the nominees, hers was the best. Hero does not appeal to dyed-in-the-wool country fans, but for fans of modern country and country pop, it was a stand-out collection of songs and an impressive first album.

Song of the Year

“Burning House,” Cameron Ochs, Tyler Johnson, Jeff Bhasker 

“Die a Happy Man,” Sean Douglas, Thomas Rhett, Joe Spargur

“Humble and Kind,” Lori McKenna

“Record Year,” Eric Church, Jeff Hyde

“My Church,” Busbee, Maren Morris

While Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” was the biggest hit in this category, it was far from the best songwriting. That distinction goes to “Burning House.” The somber country song is based on a dream Cam had prior to seeing an old flame. The arrangement showcases Cam’s talent without a lot of production tricks.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert

Maren Morris

Kacey Musgraves

Carrie Underwood

Carrie had a big year, and for all of the reasons mentioned above, I think she’ll take this one home.

Male Vocalist of the Year

Dierks Bentley

Eric Church

Tim McGraw

Chris Stapleton

Keith Urban

2016 was Chris Stapleton’s year. After last year’s CMA Awards, he arose as the most popular new country singer in the format. While he didn’t dominate country radio, he was arguably the strongest performer on the road. Any modern country singer who can open a Guns and Roses concert and fire up not only the fans but also Axl Rose should win this award.

Vocal Group of the Year

Lady Antebellum

Little Big Town

Old Dominion

Rascall Flatts

Zac Brown Band 

There’s no clear winner for this category. Lady A is on hiatus, Little Big Town cleaned up last year, Rascal Flatts went to Vegas, and Old Dominion are the new guys. That leaves Zac Brown Band, who are still one of the biggest radio and touring country groups on the planet.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Joey + Rory

Brothers Osborne

Dan + Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Maddie & Tae

The Brothers Osborne’s Pawn Shop was one of the best records of the year, and it introduced them to the world. Their talents have been known within the Nashville industry for a while, so I’m assuming that with the new album, they will get their due this year. Joey + Rory may also win this award. Their story touched the hearts and minds of country music fans everywhere, and their gospel album, Hymns That Are Important to Us, reached many.

Musical Event of the Year

“Different for Girls,” Dierks Bentley, feat. Elle King 

“Home Alone Tonight,” Luke Bryan, feat. Karen Fairchild

“The Fighter,” Keith Urban, feat. Carrie Underwood

“Think of You,” Chris Young, feat. Cassadee Pope

“You Are My Sunshine,” Morgane Stapleton with Chris Stapleton

Dierks Bentley and Elle King had a surprise hit with “Different for Girls.” The song, which focuses on how women deal with heartbreak versus men, wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it did have the most buzz of all the nominees in this category.

Musician of the Year

Jerry Douglas

Paul Franklin

Dann Huff

Brent Mason

Derek Wells

A tough category, considering all of these guys are monsters at what they do. I think Jerry Douglas will take home the award, considering the work he did this year as the band leader of The Earls of Leicester, a group that plays traditional bluegrass.

Music Video of the Year

“Burning House,” Cam

“Fire Away,” Chris Stapleton 

“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw

“Record Year,” Eric Church

“Somewhere on a Beach,” Dierks Bentley

Chris Stapleton’s video for “Fire Away” touched on some important issues in our society: mental health and suicide awareness. Of all the videos nominated, it was the best directed and the most emotionally affecting. If a music video’s job is to add another layer of feeling and depth to the song, then this one will take the cake.

New Artist of the Year

Cole Swindell

Kelsea Ballerini

Brothers Osborne

Maren Morris 

Old Dominion

Maren Morris was the breakout star this year. Her first single “My Church” and debut album My Hero both received wide critical acclaim. Kelsea Ballerini also had a big year, but Morris has more of an edge and crossover appeal than Ballerini, and I think that will ultimately sway the votes.

Watch: 11 Shocking Moments in Country Music History

recommended for you

CMA Awards Predictions: Who Will Win Big This Year