The 2010 CMA Awards nominations came out yesterday, and despite nine well-deserved nominations for Miranda Lambert, including Entertainer of the Year, most of the chatter was about the blondes missing from that category. Although they both had typically strong years, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood will be sitting out the race for the top prize at country’s big fall awards show — and it’s not super clear why.
We’ll set aside the Swift issue for the time being — she took EOTY at last year’s CMAs, and her absence this year may be a combination of her being between album cycles and some sort of conscious effort by the industry voters to shine a light elsewhere within the genre to avoid these things becoming Taylor Time, All The Time. (I’m not saying that’s a worthy excuse to give her slot to a potentially less-deserving act, but it’s the best I can come up with right now.)
The bigger issue here is the continued absence of Underwood from the CMA EOTY category, given the ginormous success she’s enjoyed in the four years since Jesus took her wheel — and especially given the fact that the CMAs have no problem with Underwood co-hosting their awards show. Three times. With a dress budget running into the billions. And yet she’s never once been nominated for Entertainer. What the what? After the jump, we’ll break down the situation.
First, here is the official description the CMA sends its members when they are voting for Entertainer of the Year, as confirmed by a rep for the CMA. (They declined to comment on this specific situation.) Ahem: “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.”
The case in Carrie’s favor is easy: Certainly, if you watched last night’s CMA special (“Country’s Night to Rock!”), you’d think Underwood would be a no-brainer for EOTY contention. Unless I am mistaken, she was the only act to perform three songs on the telecast — “Cowboy Casanova,” “Undo It,” and “Last Name” — and even in jean shorts and a tank top, Carrie and her shiny, shiny legs turned it, as the kids say, out. She’s your two-time reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year — an award that has been at least partially fan-voted both years she’s won, although the nominations are not fan-voted — and despite her absence from EOTY at the CMAs, that trade association has awarded her Female Vocalist of the Year on three separate occasions.
In the 2009-2010 eligibility window, she released the platinum-selling Play On, scored three No. 1 singles, and had the 15th highest-grossing tour for the first half of the year, according to Pollstar. (EOTY nom Brad Paisley was in 16th place; Carrie is, however, averaging 7,000 tickets per night to his 12,000. The next highest-grossing EOTY nominee is the Zac Brown Band, down at No. 76, playing for an average of 4,800 fans per show.) Carrie also sang the National Anthem at the 2010 Super Bowl (the most-watched event in TV history), received the “Triple Crown” at the ACMs (New Artist, Female Vocalist, Entertainer; I believe only the second female in history to have done so), and won Video of the Year at the CMT Awards (for “Cowboy Casanova”). Etc., etc., blah blah. The numbers are there.
And it’s certainly not an image problem: the newly-married Underwood has always been fresh as a daisy, scandal free, fully clothed, polite to a fault, doesn’t so much as Twitter to get herself in trouble. Loves God, loves the fans, loves country radio. I’d say her stewardship of the genre — even as she’s crossed into pop markets with songs like “Before He Cheats” — has been impeccable. I have never heard or seen her represent herself or country music poorly on television, in concert, or at the many dress rehearsals for assorted awards programs and specials I have attended over the years, during which she belts out multiple takes of songs that would kill mere mortals without ever missing a note. Ever.
So what’s the case against her?
Maybe it’s the pop crossover that raised eyebrows. Are Underwood’s songs insufficiently “country”? Perhaps. But then let’s go ahead and banish Taylor Swift forevermore, along with Lady Antebellum (2010 EOTY nom), Sugarland (OMG reggae), Keith Urban (2010 EOTY nom), Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, the new Reba single, and 65 to 70 percent of Zac Brown’s material (plus also his hats). Obviously, having a pop bent in today’s market cannot justifiably be held against anybody, unless you plan to hold it against everybody. In which case, Jamey Johnson better start clearing space on his trophy shelf, and someone should go wake up Lee Ann Womack.
The other possible excuse is that pesky American Idol show from which she sprang forth. Oh, there is nothing old-school Nashville hates more than someone who didn’t “pay their dues” before making it big. But where this argument starts to leak is when you consider the industry’s perspective on Idol runners-up over the years. Shall I list the names that have at least in part been welcomed into the country music fold? Danny Gokey, Bucky Covington, Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, Phil Stacey, Kristy Lee Cook, Aaron Kelly, Kelly Clarkson, I think Chris Daughtry showed up on an awards show once, do you see where I am going with this? It appears Nashville has no problem embracing these reality-show acts from the perspective of commerce, as there is surely nothing more appealing to an embattled label exec than a new artist with a built-in fan(atic) base who can sell 15-20K records in their first week and become a reliable opening draw for a more established headliner. But it would be awfully hypocritical to then hold those same reality roots against them when it comes to legitimate questions of artistry, should artistry in fact emerge.
Also, I hate to remind everyone, but Miranda Lambert finished third on Nashville Star.
Thus, the only thing I can think of here that is not easily debunked with facts and figures and simple logic is the following: The last time the Country Music Association nominated more than one solo female for Entertainer of the Year was 1979, when Crystal Gayle and Barbara Mandrell lost to Willie Nelson. And they gave this year’s slot to Miranda. Oh well. Can’t fight gender, ladies.
Obviously, this is just a theoretical exercise; I defer to the wisdom of the CMA voters, who are in the industry and therefore know way more than I do about what’s going on. And just to reiterate, I am focusing on Carrie right now — rather than Taylor or Reba or Sugarland or Chesney or Tim McGraw or George Strait, any of whom it could be argued also deserved an EOTY nod this year — because she has never receieved a nomination in this category, and I can’t think of another equally-qualified artist facing the same conundrum. Can you?
In fact, let’s open this whole thing up to you, Mixers: Why do you think Carrie Underwood can’t crack the top CMA category? And what does she have to do to get there?
(Follow The Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)
More news from EW.com’s Music Mix: