One thing will be immediately different during Wednesday’s 53rd annual CMA Awards – the spotlight will illuminate many women.
After 11 years of sharing cutesy-clever banter with Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood will take the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena flanked by female country royalty – Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
The trio will split hosting duties throughout the show, which airs at 8 p.m. on ABC, but the opening performance will be an ovation-worthy collection of marquee names: Crystal Gayle, Terri Clark, Martina McBride, The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby), Jennifer Nettles, Tanya Tucker, Sara Evans and Gretchen Wilson (Underwood, Parton and McEntire will also participate).
As for other stage turns, old-school country fans will cheer the inclusion of Willie Nelson – in his first CMA appearance since 2012 – who is set to perform with current darling Kacey Musgraves.
Reigning CMA entertainer of the year Keith Urban will also hit the stage, as well as Morris, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Stapleton with Pink, Miranda Lambert, Brooks & Dunn with Brothers Osborne, Garth Brooks with Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum with Halsey.
The lengthy list of presenters includes Sugarland’s Nettles, McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill, Kristin Chenoweth, Pam Tillis, Deana Carter, Blanco Brown, Kathy Mattea, Midland, Jim Gaffigan and Bobby Bones.
Georgia produced its usual solid showing of nominees. Here are the homegrown artists to monitor (and click here for a full list of nominees).
Thomas Rhett: The Valdosta native won’t hit 30 until March, but he’s already notched a couple of CMA Awards (along with a few others). He’ll try to add to his trophy shelf as he vies for male vocalist of the year against Dierks Bentley, Luke Combs, Keith Urban and Chris Stapleton. Rhett will also enter the ring for album of the year with “Center Point Road,” along with Carrie Underwood (“Cry Pretty”), Eric Church (“Desperate Man”), Maren Morris (“Girl”) and Dan + Shay (“Dan + Shay”).
Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town: Their roots are in Atlanta, Augusta and Marietta, respectively, and they’ll compete against each other for vocal group of the year (Midland and Old Dominion round out the category).
Florida Georgia Line: They’ve established themselves as heavy-hitters in Nashville, but the Georgia part of the duo – Tyler Hubbard – always remembers his Monroe upbringing and schooling at Loganville Christian Academy. They’ll try for vocal duo of the year against Brooks & Dunn, Brothers Osborne, Dan + Shay and Maddie & Tae.
Wyatt B. Durrette III: The Atlanta-based songwriter is primarily known for his work with the Zac Brown Band. Here, his co-write with Luke Combs and Robert Williford, “Beautiful Crazy,” will try to win song of the year.
Lil Nas X and Brantley Gilbert: The Atlanta rapper is making his presence known at country’s most prestigious award show with one of his 9 billion remixes of “Old Town Road.” But this is the one that started it all – the version that resurrected Billy Ray Cyrus. They’ll try to nab musical event of the year against another Georgian – Jefferson’s Brantley Gilbert with Lindsay Ell (“What Happens in a Small Town”) – along with Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne (“All My Favorite People”), Brooks & Dunn with Luke Combs (“Brand New Man”) and Garth Brooks and Blake Shelton (“Dive Bar”).
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