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The CMA's Entertainer of the Year Choices Spurs Debate

The 44th CMA Awards are happening this week and it just reminds me of just why I think that country music award shows are actually bad for the industry. The CMA's are nothing more than a study in politics and what artists can generate more votes from the Academy. The best act doesn't always win, or may not even be nominated, and the country fan base knows this and just doesn't understand why.

The questions of who get nominated or claims victory in the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year category seem to run rampant even through the artists themselves. This year's nominees are Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and the Zac Brown Band. A lot of shiny new contenders in a category that is normally dominated by long running heavyweights. Even megastars like Reba McEntire seem a bit confused.

"I have heard they are looking for a new regime, wanting to turn things around and to kind of mix up the shuffle," said Reba McEntire, the 1986 CMA entertainer of the year. "Well, they definitely did. This has sure gotten everybody to talk about it."

So what's going on here? Is it just a natural changing of the guard or is this just another symptom of a system that seems more political than actual politics? The Entertainer of the Year award has always been the grand prize that it was assumed all but the most dynamic and popular artists, think Taylor Swift, would have to wait years in order to be nominated and even longer to actually win. It was deemed as something for artists who had spent years out there on the road and on radio building a strong base.

"The only thing that I was disappointed in was the acts that have been headlining for so many years, they were not nominated," McEntire said. "In particular, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts. I would've assumed they would've been in that nomination before Zac Brown Band, Lady A and Miranda Lambert."

If anyone is looking to the actual CMA rules on the Entertainer of the Year award, they're probably not going to find much help in deciding who actually deserves the award. I mean really, can anyone make any sense of this?

"This award is for the act displaying the greatest competence in all aspects of the entertainment field. Voter should give consideration not only to recorded performance, but also to the in-person performance, staging, public acceptance, attitude, leadership, and overall contribution to the Country Music image."

Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and a member of the CMA's board of directors says that he can't really help clear up any confusion as he's been trying to get to the bottom of the criteria for this award for some time.

"I've been trying to get to the bottom of it for years," said DeMarcus, who is chairman of the artists relations committee. "I still don't understand it. I sit in those rooms and say, 'Can someone explain this to me?' ... There are certainly people who have been denied before and I think it's something that needs to be addressed and fixed."

There are a few things that most people will agree make up an Entertainer of the Year nominee and they include the number of concert tickets sold, record sales, television presence and being an artist that helps continue to bring in new fans to the country music fold. Well, with that explanation I'd have to ask where Miss Taylor Swift is on the list of nominees? How come Swift only received ONE nomination when she's the best selling artist on the planet? Jason Aldean, another artist who could have possibly had a claim on the Entertainer category tries to explain.

"The average fan doesn't understand how all that stuff works and the industry probably doesn't want them to," Aldean said. "Fans watch a show and they get all up in arms because their favourite artist wasn't nominated or didn't win an award they were nominated for. Bottom line is it's not based on anything, man. It's based on who can rally the most troops for their guy, and sometimes this guy wins and sometimes that guy wins. It's just kind of the way it all shakes down."

It's kind of sad when the artists themselves come out and say that they don't think they're quite worthy yet for the Entertainer crown, but that's exactly what Miranda Lambert and the members of Lady Antebellum did. Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott called the nomination "extremely premature" and Miranda Lambert said:

"I just feel like it's such a big deal to be nominated for entertainer of the year, I'm kind of weirded out that I got in there. Oh, I just can't believe it. But I feel like when you actually win it, it's something that you really have to earn. I have done two headlining tours and they were both this year. You know, I feel like I still have a ways to go before I deserve to take that home."

For what it's worth, if I had a vote I'd pick Lambert out of the five nominations for the award as she puts on a very high energy and entertaining show and her latest album is her best one to date. Back when she was on Nashville Star I sent her an email congratulating her and telling her how happy i was to see someone with a more traditional, less pop, country sound on the show. She replied that if she ever started veering off the right path that I should let her know. So far so good, Miranda!

Let's hope there are some good performances on the show this year, although who gets chosen to perform is probably another complete rant waiting to happen, and that country music fans can enjoy the show and not treat music as a competition. Music isn't a competition and it isn't about politics. Oh wait, the awards shows seem to think it is about both of those things.

Feel free to chime in here in the comments on who you think should be the Entertainer of the Year, on or off the ballot!

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