FAN FRIENDLY

Once reserved exclusively for musicians and other professionals, the Academy of Country Music takes a bold step by creating a new membership just for fans.

Ever watch an awards show and think, "If they let me vote, things would be different"?

Well, now's your chance to change the course of one of country's biggest awards shows - at least in one category.

For the first time, the Academy of Country Music and Yahoo!'s launch.com music website are allowing fans to become "Associate Members" and vote for the ACM/Launch Music Video of the Year award.

"If it weren't for the fans we wouldn't have a job, so I think their participation is a great idea!" notes Reba McEntire. Country's favorite redhead will take her third straight turn as ACM host on this year's show, set for May 26 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

"As a member of the ACM board, I was proud to give Associate Members a chance to vote for an award," says Montgomery Gentry's Eddie Montgomery. "It's as it should be."

Partner Troy Gentry agreed: "The unique relationship between fans and artists makes country music what it is today. Associate Members deserve a voice in the awards process."

Mind you, that will only include the Music Video category - the remainder of the winners will continue to be chosen by the more than 3,000 country performers and professionals who are full-fledged ACM members.

To have your say about the Video winner, just click over to acmcountry.com or acm.launch.yahoo.com and sign up. There is an annual membership fee, of course - it's $15 for "Gold" membership, and $60 for "Platinum."

In addition to voting rights, Gold members will get a load of special goodies at the ACM website - including access to exclusive audio and video, sweepstakes and meet-and-greet opportunities and access to message boards and chat rooms. The familiar face of Deana Carter will be your guide, as she conducts interviews for the site before and throughout ACM week in May.

Platinum status entitles you to all of the above, plus the chance to buy two tickets to the show. Better sign up quickly, though - only 1,500 Platinum memberships are being offered.

This marks the very first time ACM voting rights have been offered outside the group's regular membership, and signals the group's determination to make country music more inclusive and attractive to fans. To further that effort, the organization is going all-out to make Vegas seem like Nashville West in May.

For starters, the ACM Celebrity Golf Classic has been moved to Vegas, and stars will be hitting the links there on May 24. And elsewhere in town on the same day, engines will fire up for the first-ever ACM Charitable Foundation Motorcycle Ride.

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