AP music critics have their say about Wednesday's 2015 Country Music Association Awards in Nashville
NASHVILLE, TENN. >> Miranda Lambert made history at last year's Country Music Association Awards when she became the most decorated female in the show's history with 11 honors.
The singer, who won her second Grammy earlier this year, has a chance to add more CMA wins to her resume when the show airs live at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ABC-TV from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
She also has a chance to win entertainer of the year, an honor that male singers have owned for 12 of the last 14 years. (Taylor Swift won in 2009 and 2011.)
But Lambert has some stiff competition, and we don't predict that she'll walk away as the night's bigger winner.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert
F: When Luke Bryan FINALLY won his first CMA last year — for entertainer of the year — Garth Brooks presented him with the award. Now, they're the top competitors for the honor. But Bryan will have to bow down — hopefully it won't be too hard in those skintight jeans — to the country veteran because Brooks and his giant cowboy hat are going home with this trophy.
H: My gut says Brooks, but my head says Chesney. Both stars are tied in this category with four wins apiece, and both have been breaking records for touring. Chesney has an advantage because he's had four singles from his latest album, while Brooks has struggled at radio. While country music loves a comeback story, CMA voters may consider Chesney an all-around winner.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: "Old Boots, New Dirt," Jason Aldean; "Pageant Material," Kacey Musgraves; "Pain Killer," Little Big Town; "The Big Revival," Kenny Chesney; "Traveller," Chris Stapleton.
H: There's a clear theme of retro country and cool vibes in this year's album nominations. Musgraves' and Stapleton's records appeal to people who don't listen to country radio and have made a lot of critics' top picks, but Little Big Town is likely to come out ahead in this close contest. The Grammy-winning vocal group hit the right groove with superhot Nashville producer Jay Joyce once again to deliver songs that feel like that buzz after a stiff drink.
F: Little Big Town is a strong contender, as is Chris Stapleton, but after being passed over for a few years now, I think it's time the CMAs reward Jason Aldean for consistently kicking butt on the charts, on the radio and in concert. Plus, his 'Old Boots, New Dirt' is the only album here to sell over 1 million copies.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR: "American Kids," Kenny Chesney; "Girl Crush," Little Big Town; "I Don't Dance," Lee Brice; "Take Your Time," Sam Hunt; "Talladega," Eric Church.
F: If Hunt weren't so new, I'd say he would have a good shot at taking home this award. But Little Big Town provided one of the year's best songs regardless of genre with 'Girl Crush.' The controversy the song received from some country stations only brought more ears to the slow groove, which will likely earn top bids at the Grammy Awards when the nominations are announced in December.
H: You want to talk about controversy? Hunt fired up just about everyone in Nashville with 'Is he country or not' questions about his not-quite-rapping, multigenre style. While I think it would be a travesty if Little Big Town doesn't win, Hunt's grassroots momentum could earn him an upset.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton.
H: Shelton has dominated this category for the past five years, but it's Bryan's year to make a run. He's been singing and dancing his butt off at stadiums and arenas all year long, so he's earned this one.
F: I'm going to go with Stapleton, who's also nominated for album of the year. It wouldn't be too surprising if the CMAs showed love to Stapleton, who has written so many great songs that have been recorded and covered by the likes of George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Adele. YES, Adele.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood, Lee Ann Womack.
F: It's great to see a newbie like Ballerini compete with some of country's brightest voices in this tough category. Underwood will break Lambert's winning streak next year, but this year the fiery singer will add a sixth trophy to her mantel.
H: I'm following a different arrow on this one. Kacey Musgraves stepped up to the top level of country artists this year with her album 'Pageant Material,' and her energetic live performances are fun sing-alongs that any music fan can appreciate.
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