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Predictions: Who'll win the ACM Awards on Sunday

April 3, 2009 |  1:52 pm

Wondering who'll triumph when the Academy of Country Music Awards are bestowed on Sunday (8 p.m. ET/ PT, CBS)? You'd be smart to heed the predix of Chris Willman. Chris has not only written professionally about the music biz for Entertainment Weekly, the L.A. Times and other leading media, but he feels special kinship with country tunes. Check out his book "Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music" (New Press, 2007).

ACM Awards Carrie Underwood Taylor Swift As a longtime pal to Gold Derby, Chris has written up his predix exclusively for you! I hope this doesn't smack of ingratitude, but I dare to challenge one of his forecasts, while admitting that the odds probably favor his view. Considering how Carrie Underwood keeps romping through the category for best female vocalist, she may seem likely to do so again, but I'm betting my ranch (if I had one, but I don't) on Taylor Swift. Yeah, yeah, Taylor Swift may be considered too young (she's 19) and new to the scene for such a lofty embrace from the industry establishment, but I think she's wowed us all with her serious chops (singer, musician, songwriter), sales, beauty and charm. And I mean WOW! But now let's pass off to what Chris thinks . . . .(Here is a full list of nominees per category to consult while reading.)

Imagine if "Slumdog Millionaire" won best picture… and then nothing else, or maybe one technical award. Impossible, right? Yet that's what we're faced with at the country awards shows every year. At the ACMs Sunday night, Kenny Chesney is a shoo-in to win entertainer of the year, the top prize. This will mark the fifth consecutive time he's picked it up. (He's also gotten that top honor at the competing CMA Awards four out of the last five years.) But it seems entirely possible that that's the only trophy he'll bring home this year. Chesney can't lose entertainer of the year, but he almost can't win anything else.

Last year, Chesney had 11 ACM nominations, but only walked away with two awards — one, of course, for entertainer of the year; the other was a shared award for vocal event of the year, for a song on which he had a cameo. This year, he only pulled in three nominations, for entertainer, male vocalist and vocal event. I don't think he has as good a shot at winning vocal event this year as last: His partnership with Mac McAnally on "Down the Road" seems destined to lose to "Start a Band," the Brad Paisley / Keith Urban collaboration. And Chesney is really the underdog in the male vocalist race, where he's lost to Paisley the last two years.

How is it that Chesney can win the top prize every year but lose the lesser male vocalist prize to Paisley every year? That may be a mystery, but it's not an unfathomable one. I think Paisley's sense of humor, songwriting and guitar chops, faithfulness to traditional country sounds, and, yes, even vocal ability make him a favorite in the industry. But as Chesney himself has said in award show press rooms, the entertainer of the year belt really goes to the person who is considered the biggest ambassador for country music in the wider world, pulling in the huge tour numbers and getting the most media attention. And that continues to be Chesney. No offense to Chesney, but voters tend to pick male vocalist on artistry and entertainer of the year on sheer numbers and mass-market palatability.

(It doesn't hurt that, controversially, entertainer of the year is now "fan-voted." Chesney complained about this backstage last year, because he thinks it should remain an industry-voted award. But will there be any backlash from fans over his churlishness about it in 2008? Nah. And he'd still get it either way, whether it was fans or the industry doing the balloting.)

I think Paisley is going to have a bigger year at the ACMs than he ever has before. The show gives out so few awards, it's hard to talk about a sweep; last year, nobody got more than two. But this year, I think Paisley stands a very real shot at winning five out of his leading six nominations: not just male vocalist but also single, song, and video (all for "Waitin' on a Woman"), and of course vocal event for his duet with Urban. Only the biggest prize remains out of his grasp. And that's in a year when Paisley isn't even up for best album, since his mostly instrumental CD didn't make that cut.

Carrie Underwood will get female vocalist, of course, again. I'd like to see Taylor Swift sneak in there, and certainly Taylor's an even bigger star right now—pretty much the only woman in any form of music who is bigger than Carrie at the moment. But voters will finally think about the "vocal" part of "top female vocalist" and decide to give it to the gal with the serious chops. In a world where all was fair in love and war, we might be talking about Carrie and Taylor duking it out for entertainer of the year. But that's not going to happen any time soon, in such a boys' club (and newbie-phobic club).

Biggest shutout of the night: Heidi Newfield, who somehow managed to get the second highest number of nominations, five, despite not having any truly massive hits or even wild critical acclaim. Surely Newfield knows she'll be going home empty-handed and is happy just for the nomination aberration. 

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Photos: Associated Press, Getty Images

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Comments

I honestly hope that Carrie Underwood wins Female vocalist. I will be extremely disappointed in the Academy if they don't give it to her. If she were to lose that award I would hope it would go to Miranda Lambert because she's the second best in that category. I don't particularly care for Carrie all that much but she obviously is the one who deserves Female Vocalist. As for Entertainer of The Year, I also think Carrie should win it. I have been to a show from every person nominated this year and none of them were as good as Carrie's Play On tour. Taylor's was a lot more "high-tech" but her vocals were not good. Carrie sang "Just A Dream" while swinging on a huge swing and still sounded better than Taylor while Taylor was just standing. I don't have anything against any of the artists in the category but in my opinion Carrie deserves both. If she is good enough to impress me then that should say something. I liked all the other artists way more than her until I went to her show. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's phenomenal.

If Taylor wins female vocalist I will be really annoyed. I get she is popular with the teenage demographic but she cannot sing and is not particularly country. She re-mixes her tracks to suck up to pop radio. Carrie is a beautiful singer and deserves to win!

I wouldn't mind at all if Carrie won ETOY but wouldn't be upset at all if Keith Urban won it. I think if this wasn't fan voted, it would have been his rightful turn.

BubbleGum Pop Princess Taylor shouldn't even be up for a Country Award Miley Cyrus is more Country than she is and she's the real Pop Princess Hannah Montana I'm looking for Carrie to get EOTY she's got the 5 Million Fan Base to vote for her.Probably more than any of the Country Men unless Rascal Flats was in it.All the Polls I've see have Carrie winning EOTY and Female Vocalists but the also had Just A Dream winning VOTY.So I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I know it sounds dramatic but I get absolutely SCARED about how these writers blatantly overlook Taylor's weak voice. Why? Somebody please tell me why do they do this? Because I know they know she sounds terrible live and even weak recorded. They gave Carrie so much smack about being too pop but Taylor gets this obvious pass.It's just beyond bizarre to me how these big time magazines and newspapers dismisses her voice and writing isn't impressive either.She writes about high school for GOD sakes it's not like she's writing adult material.I think it's so unfair how they hype her. But yet they make it seem like a chore to give a "vocalist" award to Carrie when she is by far the best "vocalist" in the group.I just truly don't get her kind of hype.

Personally I'm sick to death of Carrie Underwood ..I'm full fledged Taylor..I happen to think that she is a wonderful singer, "bubble gum" or otherwise. Nothing wrong with a good ole fashioned down home "HAMBURGER" either, hey people...a bit threatened that Taylor is climbing the music chart in both country and pop.. Taylor girl you make me proud!!!!

This just comes to show you that people don't now true talents. It's all about many CD an artist can sell. Yes Taylor is popular but only with teenager. Until the day Taylor is praised for her Vocal CHOP, Taylor will (or should) never take that title from Carrie or anyone else or that matter. The girls can't sing live and her "lok at me, I can change my clothes during a live show" antics has to stop. It's all bubble-gum crap!

Hey, Mike I second you on your opinion. Yes, Carrie still sticks to her country tunes. Maryanne, I won't mind if they put Miranda Lambert. What Taylor? LA Times, please do your homework.

Do you not realize that Carrie also writes her own songs, plays guitar and piano, and sings circles around the Talentless-Swift? Carrie is beautiful, charming, sweet, genuine, intelligent, and the real deal. She doesn't remix all her songs to pop radio to sell out to pop like Taylor does. Taylor is a pop princess, but she is about as country as Snoop Dogg. Carrie is Steak, and Taylor is a cheap hamburger, to borrow Simon Cowell's line.

I respect your opinions, LA Times, but you cannot be serious when you say that Taylor has good vocal "chops"? Wow. She is the worst singer in any genre of music. Let's be honest here: If Taylor had tried out for American Idol, she wouldn't have even made it to hollywood. She would have been kicked to the curb by Simon at auditions.. Her voice is thin, weak, pitchy, and has no power or range. Her songs are about castles and fairy tales, bubble gum crap. She is over-rated and over-hyped, and I cannot believe you could disrespect Carrie to put Taylor in even the same league as her! not by a mile. I get that Taylor is popular with the teens, but she is not popular with adults. She is arrogant, but has no talent to back it up.

I'll be rooting for Carrie to win Female Voclist & Entertainer of the Year Award. Carrie's vocal is SIMPLY AMAZING and she can hang on to a note. Can just COVER any songs.. I don't mean to be rude or what so ever. As for Taylor, she is still young and yeah, her songs are too BUBBLE GUM...

I think I will shoot my TV is Taylor got Female Vocalist of the year. I admit the girl can write and so many young girls and their relieve Mom's love Taylor and Fearless is a great album and does deserve Album of the year. But for me, Taylor should never get any Vocalist awards. if they award was best country female artist, then yeah she might have a chance. Kenny Chesney has never won a vocalist award and I do believe Taylor is going to be in that same place.

WOW! that writer must have got a check from Taylor's team because whoever seriously thinks this girl can sing is delusional.It just goes to show you how pretty people can get by on little substance.If Taylor was 30 pounds heavier with mousy brown hair these people would laugh at her and call her a fat wannabe.But because she's pretty with a terrible voice she gets a pass.How truly pathetic is our society.So many talented vocalist and musicians won't get heard because they don't look like Taylor, but so many Taylor's will succeed because they're pretty.

Carrie deserves Entertainer of the Year over Kenny Chesney. I am sick to death of Kenny winning. He is not all that. Carrie toured 137 cities in 2008, and played to over 1 million fans. She was incredible live, and is 10000x the singer and artist that TAylor-can'tsing-swift is. I think Carrie should win every award she is up for. Taylor should go to Pop music and stay there, because she sure isn't country. She is the next Miley Cyrus, only Miley can sing.

Carrie is a much stronger vocalist then Taylor, and is much more popular in the country music industry. Taylor is a teen fad that is very popular in the teen world, like Miley Cyrus. But she is not known for her singing ability. Sorry. Just being honest. Carrie literally sings circles around her.

Carrie is in a whole different league then Taylor in every respect. Carrie has a much better voice, range, power, pitch and tone, then Taylor, who can't sing her way out of a paper bag. Taylor is a cute teen who the hanna montana kids love, but she is not a good singer at all. I will try to be polite but if Simon Cowell heard her try to sing live, he would destroy Taylor's terrible vocals. Her songwriting is good for her age, but it does not impress me. She is more of a pop singer then country anyway, and she remixes all her songs to pop which is cheating, in my opinion, as it manipulates sales and makes people think she is selling that much to country fans. She is selling to teen pop fans, mostly little girls. Not many adults that I know are impressed with her voice. Every live performance she gives, my ears hurt, it is that bad. Carrie, on the other hand, is a world class vocalist who is better live then on the album. She is more true to country, and refuses to remix her songs for pop radio, to sell out like Taylor did. Carrie is a MUCH bigger star then Taylor in country music. I think you are judging Taylor's popularity in the teen pop crowd, which is admittedly strong. But Carrie is much more popular then Taylor in the country music industry, because she is simply much better in every respect.

Actually, the Entertainer award will be determined by a combined vote of academy members (industry professionals) and the fans. So, it's not entirely fan-voted.

I don't believe Chesney deserves to win Entertainer this year at all. Sure, he sells tickets to his "variety" show -- let's see how he'd do with only one opening act (like Keith Urban does). Keith Urban is 10 times the entertainer that Chesney is. And Keith has appeared at some very high-profile gigs this past eligibility period -- he had two great spots on the Grammys; he headlined the opening of the the NFL season concert; and he headlined the Daytona 500. He also had a VERY successful tour last year.

Gotta go With Chris on this one. Carrie is a vastly superior vocalist to Taylor, who is a weak singer at best, and has a hard time staying on key. Carrie is a superstar with industry respect all over, while Taylor has yet to win any sort of award for her vocals. Taylor is a bubble gum pop writer with very little country in her songs. She is the Hanna Montana of Country music: Popular, but very little talent to back it up. I can't believe you actually tried to say that Taylor has vocal "chops"? Wow. She may be cute and popular, but a singer, she is not.


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