CMA AWARDS MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR NOMINEES

Two past winners and one first-time nominee highlight the Male Vocalist category - always one of the most hotly contested battles of CMA night.

Defending champ Tim McGraw shoots for three in a row this year, a feat only achieved by two others: Vince Gill and George Strait. Tim is on arguably the hottest roll of his career, spearheaded by his album Set This Circus Down, which debuted at the top spot on the charts. The CD's "Grown Men Don't Cry" climbed to No. 1 and his latest single, "Angry All The Time," is fast on its heels.

George Strait aims to recapture the title Tim nabbed from him two years ago, armed with his hit self-titled album and a pair of smash singles, "Go On" and "Don't Make Me Come Over There And Love You." George has a shot at history with a victory, which would give him an unprecedented sixth win as Male Vocalist.

Amazingly, Alan Jackson has never won in this category, even when tabbed Entertainer of the Year in 1995. Hard to believe, as Alan has certainly racked up amazing numbers since kicking off his career in 1989: 17 No. 1 hits, nine platinum albums and eight CMA Awards. Alan took home a CMA last year for his Vocal Event with George Strait, "Murder On Music Row," but nothing would make him happier than a solo honor this year for Male Vocalist.

Brad Paisley scores a nod for the second year in a row. An outspoken crusader for traditional country, Brad puts his money where his mouth is with his album Part II, which includes the hit "Two People Fell In Love" and a dig at today's pop-oriented sound, "Too Country," with contributing vocals from George Jones, Buck Owens and Bill Anderson. Brad, who became a member of the Grand Ole Opry this year, deflected the attention away from himself. "I wish the category had six slots, because I truly believe that Kenny Chesney should be up for this."

The lone newcomer to this grouping is actually no newcomer at all: Toby Keith. Toby's climb to next-level stardom is perhaps the year's most inspiring story, which saw him basically restart his career after leaving his former record label. He shot back with "How Do You Like Me Now?!" which fired some well-aimed bullets at those who doubted him in the past. Toby kept the momentum going with "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight" and his current hit, the humorous rap-music takeoff, "I Wanna Talk About Me."

"It feels good to be recognized for what you do," says Toby. "Just stick to your guns because good things will happen for you."

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