A year ago, the ink wasn’t dry on Maren Morris’ record deal. Her album wasn’t done. And she watched coverage of the CMA nominations on the television on the bar at The Palm. A year later, she’s locked in a three-way tie with Eric Church and Chris Stapleton for top-nominee honors for the 50th annual CMA Awards.
“Utter shock” is how Morris describes her reaction. The first-time nominee is up for Album of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, single, song and New Artist of the Year. “I thought maybe I would get one nomination.”
With five nods apiece, Morris, Church and Stapleton have proved they are able to attract wide audiences while also appealing to the genre’s most loyal fans.
The trio of artists and their fellow nominees will learn who wins when the 50th annual CMA Awards air live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 on ABC.
“(My team and I) are fortunate,” Church said. “If we didn’t have the fans that let us make a certain kind of music and the industry, too, saying that that’s OK. You can take some chances and you can be wild and creative, but you still can walk on both sides so that it’s still something radio supports and it’s still something the industry gets behind.”
The singer released his CMA-nominated “Mr. Misunderstood” as a surprise in the days leading up to last year’s CMA Awards. He sent it to members of his fan club for free, didn’t tell his record label, had no plan at retail, and many members of the media heard about it for the first time in the CMA press room. To take that risk and be validated at the industry’s highest level is validating for the singer.
“This is a neat moment for … me and for artists to know you don’t have to do it the same way every time and you still get the same spot,” Church said.
Church and Stapleton share nominations for Male Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year and Video of the Year. Church also is nominated for Song of the Year and Album of the Year for “Mr. Misunderstood.” Stapleton is included in the prestigious Entertainer of the Year category and in Musical Event of the Year with his wife, Morgane Stapleton.
Stapleton has been a beloved singer and award-winning songwriter around Nashville for years, but his breakthrough moment — a duet with Justin Timberlake — came during last year’s CMA Awards when the pair performed Stapleton’s cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” and Timberlake’s “Drink You Away.”
Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban each come away with four nominations.
“It really is special,” Bentley said of his inclusion, noting how many singers never make it off Lower Broadway. “Between now and Nov. 2, you get a chance to bask in, ‘Wow, we’re nominated for CMAs. For four of them.’ ”
Underwood and Urban landed in the Entertainer of the Year category — a first for Underwood. Urban won the Country Music Association’s top prize in 2005.
“I feel like the stars have aligned and I should go out and buy a lottery ticket,” Urban said. “The most intensive passion I have is performing live. The thing that I think has had such a profound impact on everything I get to do is the blossoming of my family, being a husband and being a father. I have so much sense of purpose for what I get to do, and that is all coming from my family.”
Buoyed by the Lori McKenna-penned ode to goodness, “Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw picked up three nominations.
Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Bryan, Cam, Old Dominion, Brothers Osborne and Thomas Rhett are each included in two categories.
“It’s been out a little over a year and it’s really wild,” Cam said of riding her breakthrough hit, “Burning House.” The ballad earned Cam a nomination for Song of the Year, and its video got a nod for Video of the Year. “It’s kind of like all the things that you hope for – that a song comes out and people recognize it and enjoy it and buy it and you get awards for it. It’s really cool that such an early song in my career had such a big impact.”
Blake Shelton, reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney and Sam Hunt are among the surprise snubs this year — a ceremony made even more sentimental given it’s the awards show’s 50th anniversary.
However Cam reminds that trophies don’t drive the music making — the possibility of winning is just a nice byproduct of the privilege of creating art on a national platform.
“Awards, it really isn’t everything,” she said. “It really is a wonderful time and an excuse — to, like, take a photo of a really happy moment. It’s not the photo that makes you happy; it’s the moment. It’s not the award that makes you happy; it’s the music.”