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#6: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Opening Act
1990

In a rare coup for a new artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter earned a coveted performance slot on the 1990 show, and she used it to establish her identity as one of country music’s left-of-center talents. She decided to perform the biting “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act),” a cutting dismissal of country star power gone awry. It was a risky move, with the less-than-famous artist taking a stab at the music industry who would determine the fate of her career.

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She’d long been an afterthought with the Country Music Association, failing to secure an award in her six-year career, but the organization righted past wrongs by honoring Shania Twain with its most significant trophy in 1999.

Twain had taken losses twice for the Horizon Award, and had been defeated in both her Female Vocalist of the Year nominations, including earlier in the evening. But Reba McEntire beamed with joy as she read Twain’s name to make her only the fourth female artist in history to take the CMA’s top award.

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#8: Faith Hill & Carrie Underwood
Female Vocalist of the Year
2006

The CMAs experienced an unwanted (and many would argue, unwarranted) amount of attention in 2006, when an intended joke by Faith Hill cast a pall on the honoring of Carrie Underwood with the Female Vocalist of the Year trophy.

Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley announced the five nominees for the award, and when Underwood was announced as the winner, the ABC cameras were aimed at all five nominees. Hill’s expression of supposed disbelief was displayed worldwide as she suddenly threw her arms wide open, mouthed what appeared to be a very angry “What?!” and stormed away.

In a statement released by Hill, she stated: “The idea that I would act disrespectful towards a fellow musician is unimaginable to me, for this to become a focus of attention given the talent gathered is utterly ridiculous. Carrie is a talented and deserving Female Vocalist of The Year.” Hill graciously called Underwood that evening, and the young singer later publicly stated that she understood how Hill’s joke was taken out of context.

While she had won three CMA awards (including 2000’s CMA Female Vocalist honor) previous to the ceremony, Hill has yet to receive another nomination. Underwood repeated as Female Vocalist of the Year in 2007, and also won Single of the Year for “Before He Cheats.”

Carrie Underwood, Female Vocalist of the Year (2006):

You have the floor.  Chat away.

Martina McBride previews her forthcoming album with “Ride”, a high-energy single that surrounds one of her typical positive messages with atypically aggressive production.   This is worth hearing for the guitar work alone, but stick around for McBride’s best vocal in a long time.

Rather than alternating between a breathy whisper and a full-out belt, McBride gives the song a straightforward performance that’s rough around the edges in all of the right ways.  She hasn’t sounded this authentic and grounded since her Wild Angels album back in 1995.   By not pushing quite as hard for the big notes, she makes a greater impact using less power.

Best of all, she sounds like she’s really singing again, interpreting a lyric instead of showcasing her vocal chops. If the rest of the new project is up to this standard, we may be in for McBride’s best album in more than a decade.

Grade: A-

Listen: Ride

As a format that has been dominated by male artists during most of its history, with a brief period in the mid-to-late 1990’s being the only exception, competition for the Male Vocalist category has always been fierce, with usually only the biggest stars of the day getting a seat at the table.

Have the CMA’s always gotten it right? We’ll take a look back, after first assessing this year’s lineup.

2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

If this lineup looks familiar, it should.  This is the exact same list of men nominated in 2005, and at least three of them have been in the running every year since 2000.    It’s no surprise then that we have four previous winners.  Strait’s taken home five, Urban’s won three, Jackson’s been named twice, and Paisley won for the first time last year.   Chesney has yet to win, but he has three Entertainer trophies to his name.  He’s now tied with Willie Nelson at seven for the most nominations in this category without a win.

I fully expect Paisley to repeat in this category, though don’t count out George Strait, who has been enjoying his typical late-decade resurgence in award show popularity.   He’s currently tied with Vince Gill for most wins in this category.  I’d like to see him break that tie this year.   I’m sure Gill can console himself with the eighteen Grammys on his mantle.

2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Josh Turner
  • Keith Urban

This was the year that Brad Paisley finally won, with his seventh nomination in eight years. The stars aligned for him, with a very successful tour, a new album that is selling strongly, and a continued hot streakat radio that was nearly unmatched. He still hasn’t had a single miss the top ten since “Me Neither” in 2000, a claim that even radio favorites like George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts can’t call their own.

2006

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

Urban became the first artist to win Male Vocalist three years in a row since George Strait did it in 1996-1998, right after Vince Gill’s 1991-1995 run. His acceptance letter, read by Ronnie Dunn, was the emotional highlight of the evening’s show.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

No surprises here, as another multi-platinum year full of radio hits and a high-profile appearance at Live 8 kept Urban fresh on voter’s minds. The big shock was him walking away with Entertainer of the Year later that night.

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