How weird are this year's Country Music Association Award nominations?
Pop singer Kelly Clarkson is up for female vocalist of the year, on the strength of a country mix of her Mr. Know It All single. The Civil Wars, a folk duo that almost never gets country airplay, has a decent shot at winning at least one of its two categories. Rock and pop singers wrote three of the five top-song nominees. And rapper Snoop Dogg appears on what may be the most traditional-sounding country song in the field.
What's going on?
"With radio and label consolidation, the number of viable artists has shrunk noticeably," says Chet Flippo, editorial director at CMT. "It's really obvious that the ranks of good country artists have been decimated. It's especially affecting women. Radio doesn't want woman artists, labels aren't signing them, and it's showing up in the charts."
Contending against Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, Clarkson isn't likely to win her category tonight when the 46th annual CMA Awards show airs live from Nashville (ABC, 8 ET/tape delay PT). And Snoop's nomination -- for a collaboration with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die -- faces stiff competition from entries by Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson and Zac Brown, and Swift and the Civil Wars.
But while the Civil Wars are a dark-horse nominee in the vocal-duo category, a win isn't completely out of the question. The duo's Barton Hollow album has gone gold via savvy viral marketing and well-timed TV performances. Still, "I don't think radio's going to vote for them en masse," says Mike Moore, director of country programming at Entercom Communications in Portland, Ore.
The song nominees with pop writers all had radio success, though. Eli Young Band covered Nashville rocker Will Hoge's Even If It Breaks Your Heart. Blake Shelton introduced singer/songwriter Dave Barnes' God Gave Me You to a country audience. Dierks Bentley co-wrote Home with Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson and his co-producer Brett Beavers. Any of those three might take the trophy in a category that also includes a song called Springsteen from this year's most nominated artist, Eric Church (with five), as well as Lambert's Over You, which she wrote with Shelton.
"Those songs are all worthy; they all did well from a chart standpoint," Moore says. "Obviously, people from other worlds are taking note of what's happening in Nashville."
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