In years past, the Country Music Association's awards show has turned into a victory parade for country's biggest stars, like Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift.
This year's show, which airs on ABC on Nov. 9, promises to be a lot more competitive. Typically, one or two artists have an overwhelming number of nominations. This time, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, and Taylor Swift are tied with five nominations apiece. And The Band Perry and Zac Brown Band are each nominated in four categories.
With a relatively small number of industry insiders deciding the winners, it's tough to predict the outcome, but let's take a look at the high-profile categories.
Female Vocalist: Sara Evans, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Swift, and Underwood. She sometimes gets overlooked in this category, but Lambert won it last year -- along with Album and Song of the Year. This year she made the biggest splash by starting up a new group, Pistol Annies, whose debut album appeared atop the country chart. I have no reason to believe she won't become a repeat winner.
Male Vocalist: Aldean, Chesney, Paisley, Shelton, and Keith Urban. Urban put on one of the most talked about shows at the Huntington Center this year, so Toledoans are familiar with what he brings. Paisley has won this category three times, and, surprisingly, Chesney has never won. Last year, Shelton surprised everyone by coming out on top, and he is the only person in country music with three No. 1 singles this year, so there's every reason to believe he's going to take home this honor again.
Vocal Group: The Band Perry, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band. When was the last time you could say six-time winner Rascal Flatts was a big underdog? Definitely this year. Lady Antebellum has won two straight years and has been on fire with their new album, "Own the Night." Zac Brown's album, "You Get What You Give," is probably the best of the year, but Lady A will make it three straight wins.
Entertainer: Aldean, Paisley, Shelton, Swift, Urban. Paisley was crowned last year for the first time. But Shelton has had a breakout year, earning legions of new fans as a judge on The Voice. I think when he opens up his new tour on Jan. 12 in Toledo that his fans will be in the presence of a first-time Entertainer of the Year.
Toledo native Michelle Poe and her singing partner Keith Burns captured the feelings of a lot of struggling Americans in their new single, "I Need a Job." The video has more than 14,000 views on YouTube, and the single has been gaining early traction on the radio charts.
In connection with the song, Burns & Poe are also offering a creative songwriter the chance to win a little money and sit down for a writing session with them. Details for the contest can be found at http://tinyurl.com/6ecjvgt.
Brian Dugger's column on country music appears in The Blade the last Saturday of every month. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DuggerCountry.