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When Country Weekly broke the news that Reba wouldn’t be returning to host the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2013, country fans were stunned. After all, the superstar had spent the past 14 years hosting the show, with Blake Shelton only being added for co-hosting duties in 2011.
How would the ACM fill her shoes? By choosing a red-hot multiplatinum country star named Luke Bryan to co-host the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, airing live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on CBS Sunday, April 7.
Here are our picks for ACM night. You can see a full list of this year’s nominees below, followed by some predictions about which artists will need to make some space on their mantels. See if you agree!
The ACMs’ big enchilada—the Entertainer of the Year Award—is chosen online by you folks, country fans. Taylor Swift has actually won this one the past two years, but it seems like she’s only just started her quest for world domination with Red. And while Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan are great, they don’t seem to have the market or culture saturation of their fellow nominees. Based purely on singles, record sales and a blockbuster touring schedule, Jason Aldean certainly meets all the EOTY criteria and should be the winner. But if Blake Shelton’s misinterpreted comments about “old farts” and “jackasses” didn’t sour too many fans’ opinions of him, he also has a chance.
Winner: Jason Aldean
Blake has also won Male Vocalist of the Year the past two years, so he’s got a good shot against Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Toby Keith and Eric Church. This category is historically more rigid—prior to Blake’s first win, Brad Paisley got the trophy for five consecutive years.
Winner: Blake Shelton
Blake’s better half Miranda has won Female Vocalist the last three years, and Carrie Underwood owned it the three years before that. Both of these talented ladies have had big success in the past year, but Carrie has a newer album and a Grammy-winning song in “Blown Away.” Taylor has never won the Female Vocalist award, and Martina just hasn’t had the smash she needs for votes. And, man, we are madly in love with Kacey Musgraves, but it’s not quite her time just yet.
Winner: Carrie Underwood
The Vocal Duo category seems in perpetual upheaval after Brooks & Dunn called it quits and left everyone to fight it out. Always-popular Sugarland has been dormant while Jennifer Nettles does her motherly duty and Big & Rich have yet to really reignite, so that leaves three possible contenders with Thompson Square, Florida Georgia Line and Love and Theft. Acronym-friendly FGL and LNT have definitely had exciting launch years, but Thompson Square picked this one up last year and kept the momentum rolling.
Winner: Thompson Square
Talk about tough ones to call: Vocal Group of the Year is just stacked. Lady Antebellum has taken it the last three years, and the “bands”—The Band Perry, Eli Young Band and Zac Brown Band—are all red-hot right now. And yet, Little Big Town eclipsed all of them with one groovy hit about a boat.
Winner: Little Big Town
The fan-voted New Artist of the Year pits newly engaged Brantley Gilbert and Jana Kramer against each other and hot new duo Florida Georgia Line. Considering the huge impact of “Cruise,” it seems obvious how this will play out. Brantley and Jana will have to console each other.
Winner: Florida Georgia Line
Eric Church’s Chief won Album of the Year over at the CMA Awards, but it feels a little old now that he’s four singles in. This really comes down to Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away and Taylor Swift’s Red as the biggest and best of the bunch.
Winner: Red — Taylor Swift
ACM Single Record of the Year usually tends toward a ballad, so that would look good for Hunter’s “Wanted,” Miranda’s “Over You” or Eric’s “Springsteen.” But LBT’s “Pontoon” is an endless ray of sunshine that always lifts spirits.
Winner: “Pontoon” — Little Big Town
Song of the Year basically repeats the same tunes from Single Record, with the exception of “A Woman Like You” (recorded by Lee Brice) in place of LBT’s “Pontoon.” All are worthy of receiving the honor, but the Miranda-Blake love is running high right now.
Winner: “Over You”
Will videos ever be fun again post-“Red Solo Cup”? It’s hard to say. In the meantime, Eric Church and Little Big Town both had compelling hit videos with a cinematic feel.
Winner: “Creepin’” — Eric Church
Vocal Event pits Kelly and Vince’s “Don’t Rush” up against David Nail’s “Let It Rain” (with Sarah Buxton), Kenny and Tim’s “Feel Like a Rock Star,” and Rascal Flatts’ “Easy” (with Natasha Bedingfield). Oh, and a massive No. 1 hit featuring three of the Male Vocalist nominees, “The Only Way I Know.” So, you know, duh.
Winner: “The Only Way I Know” — Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Luke Bryan