ACMs Spoil Great Night By Splitting Entertainer of the Year

Whenever you regard the ACM Awards, you always have to remind yourself, “It’s only the ACM Awards.” As the bastard cousin of the CMAs and a regular forum for bloc voting and horse trading among labels and booking agencies, they often end up in ridiculous results. You can always run the risk of taking them too seriously.

Nonetheless, their delayed presentation Wednesday evening, September 16th in Nashville incorporating three separate venues in The Bluebird Cafe, The Ryman Auditorium, and The Grand Ole Opry House, and the COVID necessities of stripped-down performances and a more sedate attitude to the presentation, resulted in arguably one of the best country awards shows in modern history. Forgoing choreographed dancers and pyrotechnics, songs and voices took center stage. And more often than not, they rose to the occasion.

We’ll be talking about Carrie Underwood’s medley of country music classics for years to come, where she covered Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, and Martina McBride. Eric Church found a poignant moment by beginning his performance of “Stick That in Your Country Song” with an extended edition of Johnny Cash’s spoken word “Ragged Old Flag.” Mickey Guyton moved many with her performance of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” that felt like it made a star. Moments happened, and fans were made, which most modern award shows fumble in their frenetic attempt to cram as many names into a presentation as possible.

The night really underscored how it’s not always the songs or the lack of talent that render today’s country music so repulsive to distinguishing ears and classic country fans. It’s the layers upon layers of production. Some artists still couldn’t do without it, like Old Dominion and Florida Georgia Line. But others shined in the more intimate moments, like Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, and Tim McGraw. Trisha Yearwood performed during the most thorough In Memoriam segment we’ve seen from any country music awards show in years, resulting in many appreciative classic country fans.

But then there were the awards themselves. The love for Old Dominion, who walked away with Song of the Year and Group of the Year was a little strange. Maren Morris and Luke Combs fairly deserved their Male and Female Artist awards respectively. Combs was a pretty obvious pick for Album of the Year as well for What You See Is What You Get. But regardless of what you thought about the nominees, you had to be heartened by the whole package the ACMs were able to put together amid the circumstances … until the end.

When host Keith Urban announced that not one, but two artists had tied for the biggest trophy of the night—Entertainer of the Year—the only way you knew it would work out well is if it was Carrie Underwood, and either Luke Combs or Eric Church. When Thomas Rhett was named as the first recipient, all the positive will the ACMs had built up over the night went out of the room. Anyone but Thomas Rhett would have been a better pick. When Carrie Underwood was named as the 2nd winner, it almost felt like a consolation, no fault of her own.

After the controversy at the CMA last November where Garth Brooks won Entertainer of the Year when so many were expecting Carrie Underwood, or possibly Eric Church—a moment that became so disconcerting Garth has permanently taken himself out of the running for the award—you felt like the ACMs had to get it right. And in one respect, they did by giving Carrie Underwood the accolade, or at least half of it.

Also important to note, Carrie Underwood actually won the ACM Entertainer of the Year in both 2009 and 2010, so this win wasn’t the unprecedented white whale the CMA Entertainer award would have been, which she’s yet to do. But by giving Entertainer to Thomas Rhett as well, you immediately build in speculation and conspiracy theories of how an award voted on by thousands would result in a tie. The immediate thought by many was and will continue to be, “They just gave it to Carrie too to stave off criticism for not supporting women.”

Of course, we don’t have any evidence of that, and never will. But allowing this result forever sullies the award for Carrie, and unfairly. And even though Thomas Rhett has no business winning any Entertainer of the Year award, it also unfairly paints him as spoiler, similar to what happened to Garth Brooks at the 2019 CMA Awards. It’s not their faults they garnered the most votes.

Similar to when you have a football team with two quarterback, what that really means is you have none. That’s not to take away from either Carrie Underwood or Thomas Rhett. But it just renders the whole thing weird and confusing, and ripe to conjecture of how we got here. If it was truly a tie, why wasn’t there a re-vote or a runoff, or more voters brought in, or some other remedy to the log jam? You can’t change votes. But you could craft a fair remedy to a tie. You figured out a way to present an excellent awards show presentation during a pandemic. You could have figured this out too.

Granted, if it was Eric Church or Luke Combs who would have won with Carrie, maybe the glass would be half full right now for more country fans, and there would more forgiveness aside from those loyal to Thomas Rhett. And if Thomas Rhett had won alone, this would definitely be an even worse scenario. If Church or Combs has won on their own, it would be much more understandable.

But regardless of how the ACMs got there, their results are the same: country fans frustrated over the results of the Entertainer of the Year award—just like what happened at the CMAs and ACMs over the last few years, while the woke think piece writers will be quick to condemn the entirety of country music for making Carrie Underwood share her moment with a man. And let’s not forget, Keith Urban was the ACM winner last year. Few were able to square with that either. He also seemed like the worst pick of the entire lot.

The problem with the Entertainer of the Year Awards–CMA or ACM—is that the regularly result in winners that the wide public feels are undeserving. You can’t make everybody happy. But you can find plurality, or consensus. Three of the five nominees would have resulted in that outcome. Fans would have understood more if Luke Bryan would have won—the fifth nominee in the category. Trying to take the easy way out by giving Entertainer of the Year to two artists is no solution. Arguably, it exacerbates the issue, and the confusion of the Entertainer of the Year process, already rendered more confusing as it has morphed into a touring award.

But just remember, “It’s only the ACM Awards.” It’s just disappointing that one of their best presentations in perhaps a decade or more—and under difficult circumstances—had to be sullied at the very end by a silly and avoidable decision.

READ: ACMs Spoil Great Night By Splitting Entertainer of the Year Award

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