At last night's CMA Awards, it came as no great surprise when Kenny Chesney won entertainer of the year for the fourth time in five years. After all, that top prize tends to reward the artist who's king of the road tour and CD sales. That's Kenny Chesney, who continues to be a top draw on the concert circuit, playing to more than a million people a year while racking up seven platinum albums in the last decade.
In a way, it was fitting that 1999 winner Shania Twain made the presentation. Like Twain, who counts only this one win among her 10 Country Music Assn. kudos nominations, Chesney has little hardware from the CMA beyond these four awards. He has amassed 29 nominations but has managed only three other wins — for recording and producing the 2004 album of the year "When the Sun Goes Down" and for his vocal collaboration last year on "Find Out Who Your Friends Are." Indeed, Chesney has lost male vocalist for seven years running.
The latter fact suggests one ominous possibility. Since the CMA award is the Oscar of the Nashville music scene, it seems to be saying something curious and revealing about what the industry secretly thinks of that beer-chuckin', back-slappin', girl-chasin' good ole boy: They respect Kenny Chesney as someone who can sell CDs and concert seats, but he's not really respected as a vocal artist.
Among those Chesney edged out for the entertainer prize last night were two men who have beaten him in that category: show co-host Brad Paisley, who repeated as male vocalist winner and three-time male vocalist champ Keith Urban, who interrupted Chesney's streak as entertainer of the year with a win in 2005. And while Chesney lost new artist of the year (then known as Horizon award) in 1999 to Jo Dee Messina, Paisley won in 2000, as did Urban the following year.
Chesney also triumphed over George Strait, a five-time male vocalist winner and entertainer of the year in 1989 and 1990. Last night, Strait had to be content with becoming the all-time CMA champ with 22 awards total (out of a staggering 75 nominations). He picked up four trophies as both artist and producer of the best single ("I Saw God Today") and best album of the year ("Troubadour"). While this was only his second single to win after 1996's "Check Yes or No," it was Strait's fifth win for an album after "It Just Comes Natural," 2007; "Carrying Your Love With Me," 1997; "Blue Clear Sky," 1996; and "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind," 1985.
Going into the evening, the veteran singer had sat just one behind Brooks & Dunn, who have 19 trophies, including a record 14 as vocal duo. However, red-hot Sugarland, also a contender for entertainer of the year, took that prize away from them for the second year running. Rascal Flatts was vocal group of the year for the sixth year running while show co-host Carrie Underwood made it three in a row as female vocalist.
For more on the CMAs, Todd Martens has a full rundown of the evening over at Pop and Hiss.
Photo: Darron Cummings / Associated Press