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MusicNewsRumor’s 2021 CMA Awards Predictions

After much deliberation, my predictions for the 55th Annual CMA Awards are finally here.

After much deliberation, my predictions for the 55th Annual CMA Awards are finally here. Let me just tell you, these are my predictions of who is going to win tonight. This doesn’t mean this is necessarily the exact order I would personally rank these, nor was it based on chart performance or any other arbitrary guidelines. In the end, it’s all for fun anyways. We look back on these rankings and laugh at how wrong we were because so often we get it wrong. (Don’t forget to tune into the 55th Annual CMA Awards TONIGHT at 8/7c on ABC!) Let’s get into these predictions now…

Entertainer of the Year

  1. Eric Church
  2. Luke Combs
  3. Miranda Lambert
  4. Chris Stapleton
  5. Carrie Underwood

This category has proven to be pretty unpredictable, but it’s also the widely considered the most highly coveted of the night. In a year where live entertainment was made increasingly difficult, it is under strange circumstances that a winner must be named. An argument could really be made for each of them, but Eric Church feels like a frontrunner here. After releasing a a double album (triple album, really, if you take into account the fan-club-only-middle project), Church toured the album playing concerts that ran well over two hours. He’s also the reigning champ, so that means he’s fresh on voters’ minds. Luke Combs has also been putting on some of the most in-demand shows lately, and he has quickly risen to the occasion in terms of being an arena and even nearing stadium status. Miranda Lambert has been busy touring, but she might seem the less obvious choice coming off a year that included her releasing a stripped-back one-take project with Jack Ingram and John Randall, The Marfa Tapes. It can be argued that was extremely entertaining, though, and lended itself to some incredible live performing on the road. Chris Stapleton has enjoyed a fine year of touring and live shows, and we all know the specialty that he is when it comes to performing live. Carrie Underwood seems like she is facing the most uphill battle of them all as she is the only nominee who didn’t tour over the last year, which is one of the biggest factors taken into consideration for this category. 

Female Vocalist of the Year

  1. Carly Pearce
  2. Miranda Lambert
  3. Maren Morris
  4. Ashley McBryde
  5. Gabby Barrett

The stars really feel like they’re aligning for Carly Pearce to win this category, and it’s kind of hard to think this is the first year she’s been nominated here. Miranda Lambert is seemingly just as likely, and she had an exceptional year given the circumstances. Releasing The Marfa Tapes, releasing a Christmas album with Pistol Annies, and a brand-new single “If I Was A Cowboy,” she really made the most out of a sour year. Maren Morris feels like a somewhat odd choice here, not because she’s undeserving, but because she’s kind of in between album cycles and didn’t have quite as many opportunities to get out there. She’s the reigning champ, so it feels odd to have her mid-way down the list, so she might surprise us. Ashley McBryde released a vastly underrated album with Never Will, and there’s a case to be made for her win here, although others feel a little more likely this year. Gabby Barrett feels like one of those nominees who should feel honored to be nominated, and that’s not a sleight against her by any means. She is that rare crossover nominee that makes it in the new artist category AND the female artist category, and that’s a rare achievement in itself.

Male Vocalist of the Year

  1. Chris Stapleton
  2. Eric Church
  3. Luke Combs
  4. Thomas Rhett
  5. Dierks Bentley

Just to split my chances here, and also because I like seeing multiple winners in a single night and not one artist dominating, I think Chris Stapleton could take home Male Vocalist of the Year. His album, Starting Over, has made a real connection with people, and there’s lots of GRAMMYs talk, which is always a good thing. Eric Church, while my prediction for Entertainer of the Year, feels like he’s in second place in this category, though not by much at all. Either artist could win and I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Luke Combs feels like a considerable wild card pick here. He’s the reigning champ, and he has been a dominant force in the country genre and beyond, so that could very well push him to the win. Thomas Rhett has had some trouble winning over the Country Music Association in categories like Male Vocalist of the Year (i.e., categories that go just to him and don’t award his songs or videos), so it seems unlikely that he makes it to the top this year among such stiff competition. Dierks Bentley has had a somewhat odd year releasing two singles — “Gone” and “Beers On Me” with BRELAND and HARDY — so it feels strange to give him the top men’s honor without a full body of work or truly standout tour to show for it.

Vocal Group of the Year

  1. Old Dominion
  2. Lady A
  3. Little Big Town
  4. Zac Brown Band
  5. Midland

Old Dominion have won this category at this show for the last three consecutive years, and it doesn’t seem like this is going to be the year that changes that. Lady A are right on their heels, though, with a widely successful tour and a sound on their latest album, What A Song Can Do, that marked a real return to form. Little Big Town have harmonies for days and will always be respected as a vocal group, especially in country music. However, this year doesn’t feel their most winning year, and other groups feel ahead of them in this race. Zac Brown Band might just surprise me here, especially after the recent success of their latest single, “Same Boat.” Midland unfortunately feel like they’re trailing this pack due to lack of exposure, and that’s sad because their music is really so good and deserving of wide acclaim. Their style is unmatched, and they add a unique flair to their sound that cannot be replicated.

Vocal Duo of the Year

  1. Brothers Osborne
  2. Dan + Shay
  3. Florida Georgia Line
  4. Maddie & Tae
  5. Brooks & Dunn

This feels like a two-horse race, and it really could go either way. Brothers Osborne have received widespread critical acclaim for their album, Skeletons, and the story behind “Younger Me” and TJ’s coming out have really resonated with people. Dan + Shay have the crossover success story that every artists dreams of: collaborating with Justin Bieber AND dates scheduled to open for Kenny Chesney’s 2022 stadium tour. Their widespread appeal could play in their favor for this category. Florida Georgia Line have suffered from a year that saw them churning out their least commercially successful project to date, as well as a bit of turbulence from some personal disputes between each member of the duo. Add that to their cancelled tour dates, and this tarnished year what can be summed up as a less than stellar. There’s always next time. Maddie & Tae still feel like the ignored stepchildren of the genre, which is unfair because their music is better than it has ever been. Country radio really enjoyed “Die From A Broken Heart,” but their subsequent songs have been just as intriguing. Brooks & Dunn have had a great run of shows on their cleverly named Reboot Tour, but they feel a bit behind the bunch in this category.

New Artist of the Year

  1. Mickey Guyton
  2. Gabby Barrett
  3. Ingrid Andress
  4. Jimmie Allen
  5. HARDY

This is one of those weird batches of “new artists” that don’t quite feel like “new artists.” Award shows can be weird like that, but we just kinda have to go with it. Mickey Guyton is the seemingly obvious frontrunner here. The conversation that is finally being had around Black voices in country music is due in large part to her contributions over the last couple of years. Her debut album finally saw the light of day after a decade of work, and the Country Music Association may just be ready to award her. Gabby Barrett has enjoyed massive success with her first two singles, “I Hope” and “The Good Ones,” so I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see her walking on stage to accept this award. Ingrid Andress is one of the most innovative voices in the genre right now, and the way she blends genres and influences into her music is something special. Jimmie Allen has worked with some of the biggest and best names in all of music already, and he has solidified himself as a force in a relatively short amount of time. He’s becoming a household name in more ways than one, and his pop culture relevance could play to his advantage here. HARDY is “unapologetically country as hell,” and that’s why we love him. He’s country music’s young rocker right now, and he’s doing things that others wouldn’t dare.

Album of the Year

  1. Starting Over by Chris Stapleton
  2. 29 by Carly Pearce
  3. Skeletons by Brothers Osborne
  4. Heart by Eric Church
  5. Dangerous: The Double Album by Morgan Wallen

At first glance, Chris Stapleton’s Starting Overlooks like a clear winner. Then, you start to see that there isn’t a clear winner at all. There are arguments to be made for each of these projects, and any one of them could be taking home the trophy. Carly Pearce’s 29 is such a straight through and through country record, that the Country Music Association might want to award her for her homage to the roots of the genre. Brothers Osborne’s Skeletonsis somehow simultaneously soul-baring and hardcore, and that’s a combination that really only they can pull off successfully. Eric Church’s album(s) rollout was messy and convoluted to say the least, but that doesn’t take away from the good parts of those projects. It also feels strange that “Hell of a View” got two nominations despite being featured on Soul. As a full body of work, however, it seems they leaned toward Heart, although maybe not more than some of these other albums. When it comes to Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album, will voters even want to touch it? Being such a sensitive subject, and with those in Nashville debating whether or not he should be welcomed back with open arms just yet, the whole project faces uncertainty. This whole situation is unfortunate, though, because there are some pretty exceptional songs on this record, but it requires people to separate the art from the artist.

Single of the Year

  1. “Starting Over” by Chris Stapleton
  2. “Famous Friends” by Chris Young & Kane Brown
  3. “Hell of a View” by Eric Church
  4. “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde
  5. “The Good Ones” by Gabby Barrett

This category continues to offer up a mixed bag of variety. With songs from Chris Stapleton, Chris Young & Kane Brown, Eric Church, Ashley McBryde, and Gabby Barrett, they paint a picture of the miscellaneous hits that dominated the airwaves over the last year. As a radio single, Chris Young and Kane Brown’s “Famous Friends” makes a strong argument for the win. It also benefits from being a hit that gained its popularity recently and right around the time of voting, so that could play a factor. Chris Stapleton’s “Starting Over” may not seem like an obvious choice for a single to send to radio, but when you’re Stapleton, you can bend the rules a little. Eric Church’s “Hell of a View” is the easy-listening track that we all want playing on the radio during our daily drive. Ashley McBryde’s “One Night Standards” packaged the country storytelling everyone talks about but rarely finds on the radio. Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones” is one of those once-in-a-career sized hits, but it also feels a little bit dated compared to the others, which might hurt its odds.

Song of the Year

  1. “Forever After All” by Luke Combs
  2. “Starting Over” by Chris Stapleton
  3. “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde
  4. “The Good Ones” by Gabby Barrett
  5. “Hell of a View” by Eric Church

This is a songwriting award, so we have to put on our clever songwriting caps here and think about which lyrics hit the hardest. Looking at the list, Luke Combs’ “Forever After All” immediately jumps to the top for me. These lovey-dovey types of songs you could hear at a wedding are usually just screaming for a win in categories like this. Chris Stapleton’s “Starting Over” takes a different approach and comes in with some reflective lyricism that perfectly captures the signature Stapleton sound we all love, though. When you’re analyzing lyricism, Ashley McBryde’s “One Night Standards” has that tongue-in-cheek, sly sense of humor to its storyline that we all gravitate toward, and that individuality should boost its chances. Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones” tugs at the heartstrings and gives you that sense of hope that maybe there are some good ones out there left for me, and that sentiment that made it perform so well could translate to this category. Eric Church’s “Hell of a View” is a crowd-pleasing hit that everyone loves, and there are some deep lyrics in there. It faces some stiff competition, though.

Musical Event of the Year

  1. “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” by Miranda Lambert & Elle King
  2. “half of my hometown” by Kelsea Ballerini featuring Kenny Chesney
  3. “Famous Friends” by Chris Young & Kane Brown
  4. “Chasing After You” by Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris
  5. “Buy Dirt” by Jordan Davis featuring Luke Bryan

Miranda Lambert and Elle King’s “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” is the hill I will die on because that song deserved so much more than it got. This should have been song of the summer, and the live performance we got for this was beyond electric. Cross-genre collars such as this one have historically done pretty well in this category. Kelsea Ballerini and Kenny Chesney’s “half of my hometown” didn’t make nearly enough noise, and it really feels like the one high-profile collaboration that flew under some people’s radars this year. This song is really good, and the way Kelsea and Kenny’s voices blend on this track sounds incredible. It is common for this category to lean in favor of “bigger” sounding collabs, so I think it would be really significant to give this some much-deserved recognition. Chris Young and Kane Brown’s “Famous Friends” hit at just the right time, and that could give it that extra push to win. Chris and Kane have long been real-life friends, so this collaboration feels authentic and celebrates our everyday heroes. Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris’s “Chasing After You” marks the first time that they finally released their first official collaboration together, and the couple’s collab is really special. Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan’s “Buy Dirt” feels like one of those special songs that the everyday person can relate to, and some of those can be the best of them all. It’s a song that doesn’t feel at all forced, and you can tell each artist involved had a real connection to the subject matter.

Music Video of the Year

  1. “Younger Me” by Brothers Osborne
  2. “half of my hometown” by Kelsea Ballerini featuring Kenny Chesney
  3. “Chasing After You” by Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris
  4. “Famous Friends” by Chris Young & Kane Brown
  5. “Gone” by Dierks Bentley

This was an odd year for music videos when you look back on it. None of these music videos that are nominated feel particularly memorable or super special, even though they came from great artists and good songs. Brothers Osborne’s “Younger Me” music video has the most cultural relevance and societal importance, so I see it taking home the big prize. The storyline that Kelsea Ballerini illustrates in her music video for “half of my hometown” with Kenny Chesney is so personal yet relatable for many people. I love how Kelsea Ballerini recruited a fellow Knoxville native with Kenny Chesney, and she even went back home to her own high school to film the video. It truly doesn’t get more personal and close to an artist’s heart than that. Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris put together a really stunning visual for “Chasing After You” that is just as sensual and beautiful as the song itself. Chris Young and Kane Brown have the clear fun video choice here with “Famous Friends,” so that could propel them to win over the majority. Dierks Bentley’s “Gone” music video has all of the pop culture references you could ask for, but it makes you wonder if that will help or hurt its chances at a win. Only time will tell!

Musician of the Year

  1. Jenee Fleenor
  2. Ilya Toshinskiy
  3. Derek Wells
  4. Paul Franklin
  5. Aaron Sterling

This is often the forgotten category of the night, but these musicians are the unsung heroes of your favorite songs and albums that were nominated above. Jenner Fleenor is the reigning champ, so she has that in her favor. Plus, she’s one of the most widely recognized names on this list at this point. Her fiddle playing can be heard on recent songs by Carly Pearce, Blake Shelton, Cody Johnson, Lauren Alaina, Jon Pardi, Dustin Lynch, and Riley Green. Ilya Toshinkiy’s name pops up in the credits of so many songs that I lost track, so it only seems fitting that his widely successful collaborations playing banjo on songs be awarded. Let me just name a few of the artists whose songs from 2021 feature guitar played by Toshinskiy: Carly Pearce, Thomas Rhett, Morgan Wallen, Dan + Shay, Lady A, Florida Georgia Line, Carrie Underwood, Jordan Davis, Blake Shelton, Ryan Hurd, Ingrid Andress, Sam Hunt, Dustin Lynch, Lauren Alaina, Zac Brown Band, Chrissy Metz, Justin Moore, Mitchel Tenpenny, Chase Rice, Brett Young, Conner Smith, Morgan Evans, Midland, Chris Janson, and Lily Rose. Derek Wells is another musician whose instrumentation is widely popular, as is evident from his recent work with Carly Pearce, Mickey Guyton, Thomas Rhett, Morgan Wallen, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Lady A, Kane Brown, Jordan Davis, Carrie Underwood, Ryan Hurd, Maddie & Tae, Dustin Lynch, Niko Moon, Ian Munsick, Callista Clark, Priscilla Block, Justin Moore, Brett Young, Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery, and Lily Rose. Guitar is obviously a popular instrument in a country song, but he’s quite literally the go-to-guitar-guy. Paul Franklin has been hard at work playing the steel guitar on songs for the likes of Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Kane Brown, Lady A, Zac Brown Band, Alan Jackson, Brett Young, Riley Green, and Midland over the last year. Aaron Sterling’s work ranges all across the genre and beyond, playing the drums on songs released by Mickey Guyton, Lady A, Sam Hunt, Kane Brown, Dierks Bentley, Morgan Evans, Brett Young, Chase Rice, Conner Smith, Callista Clark (and outside the country genre, he has even worked lately with John Mayer, Shawn Mendes, and JP Saxe).

Watch the 55th Annual CMA Awards hosted by Luke Bryan live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville TONIGHT — Wednesday, November 10 — from 8-11PM ET on ABC!


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