Chris Stapleton Leads Nominees for the 2016 CMA Awards (+ Predictions)


“High school pageantry, meat parade award show bullshit…”

–Sturgill Simpson

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The nominees for the 50th Annual CMA Awards have been announced, and Chris Stapleton, Eric Church, and newcomer Maren Morris lead the field each with five nominations. Stapleton continues to be the big surprise, picking up a nomination for the evening’s biggest prize, Entertainer of the Year, and four other nominations despite not releasing a new record in the CMA eligibility cycle.

Maren Morris did release a new reocord, and despite it being decidedly pop, the critical wooing of the starlet continues, and translates into nominations for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, and others. Eric Church, who released his latest album Mr. Misunderstood the day of the 2015 CMA Awards, also makes his mark in the nomination field, including for Album of the Year, but falls short of an Entertainer nomination some thought might be coming to him in 2016.

For those who love to root for underdogs, despite being considered in multiple categories, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price did not make the final cut, though Sturgill has made it patently clear he wouldn’t attend even if he was nominated. However Joey + Rory did pick up a nomination for Vocal Duo of the Year, bolstered by the surprising sales of their recent release Hymns, and the interest in the duo in the aftermath of Joey Martin Feek’s passing.

Also of note, there are NO nominations for either Blake Shelton or Jason Aldean. This year’s field does symbolize a shift, however slowly, in country in a more positive direction.

Below is the complete list of nominees and knee jerk reactions. NOTE – These are not recommendations or SCM’s personal picks. They are predictions of winners.

Entertainer of the Year

This still remains Luke Bryan’s to lose, but a strong case can be made for Garth Brooks after he’s amassed incredible numbers during his comeback tour. Carrie Underwood also has to be given strong consideration, and there is a sense out there it could be “her year” to win this. Simply picking up a nomination is big for her, as it is for Chris Stapleton who can’t be ruled out. Since he’s basically won everything he’s been nominated for, who knows? He’s very well loved among the CMA voters, we know that for sure. Only Urban doesn’t have a chance in this otherwise strong field in 2016.

Garth Brooks – Other Potential Winner
Luke Bryan – WINNER
Chris Stapleton – – Other Potential Winner
Carrie Underwood – – Other Potential Winner
Keith Urban

Single of the Year

Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind” will win something, but Single is usually reserved for the commercial powerhouse, while Song goes to the critical favorite. With all the love streaming to Maren Morris, she has to be considered a favorite. Except for Thomas Rhett, this is an otherwise curiously strong field for this award, and signals that things are changing in the mainstream. Though Maren is decidedly pop, “My Church” is decidedly organic and refreshing, and would make a fine winner.

“Die a Happy Man,” Thomas Rhett
“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw
“My Church,” Maren Morris – WINNER
“Nobody to Blame,” Chris Stapleton
“Record Year,” Eric Church

Album of the Year

Let’s pray neither Dierks Bentley or Keith Urban win this after both turn in the worst records of their careers. Mr. Misunderstood could swoop in and win this, but there’s a lot of momentum behind both Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris this year too. Tough field to call. Really anyone could win, but Eric Church probably should.

Black, Dierks Bentley
Hero, Maren Morris – Other Potential Winner
Mr. Misunderstood, Eric Church – WINNER
Ripcord, Keith Urban
Storyteller, Carrie Underwood – Other Potential Winner

Song of the Year

This should (and likely) will go to “Humble & Kind.” If so, this is huge for the sole songwriter, Lori McKenna.

“Burning House,” Camaron “Cam” Ochs, Tyler Johnson, Jeff Bhasker
“Die a Happy Man,” Sean Douglas, Thomas Rhett, Joe Spargur
“Humble and Kind,” Lori McKenna – WINNER
“My Church,” busbee, Maren Morris
“Record Year,” Eric Church, Jeff Hyde

(Award goes to songwriters)

Female Vocalist

No disrespect to Miranda Lambert, but if she wins yet again this year, we know the fix is in. Really, Miranda fans should not even want her to win, so that accusation doesn’t follow all of her CMA and ACM wins around. Nothing against her, but she’s done so little for a while now, it’s just hard to justify her as the recipient. This will likely go to Carrie Underwood, but don’t completely rule Maren Morris out. She’s set up to have a Chris Stapleton-style night if everything rolls right.

Kelsea Ballerini
Miranda Lambert
Maren Morris – Dark Horse
Kacey Musgraves
Carrie Underwood – WINNER

Male Vocalist

Interesting to see Tim McGraw re-emerge in this category, and if anything was just in the world, he, Chris Stapleton, or Eric Church will win this. As said above, the new Dierks and Keith Urban efforts are awful, though they can’t be ruled out. Eric Church is more an Album guy, and may not be likeable enough to walk away with this. Stapleton will still be the voter’s favorite. But watch out for McGraw, who’s been mounting a slow and steady comeback since signing with Big Machine. Hard field to call on this one.

Dierks Bentley
Eric Church
Tim McGraw – Potential Winner
Chris Stapleton – Potential Winner
Keith Urban

Vocal Group

Horrible field. Hopefully nobody wins. Lady Antebellum has been on hiatus, and Rascal Flatts might as well have been. Big fear that Old Dominion sweeps into a weak field and walks away with this, but voters love Little Big Town.

Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town – Potential Winner
Old Dominion – Potential Winner
Rascal Flatts
Zac Brown Band

Vocal Duo

Glad Joey + Rory got a nomination, but this is where the ride ends. This category continues to be a no brainer, unfortunately.

Brothers Osborne
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line – WINNER
Joey + Rory
Maddie & Tae

New Artist

Interesting that Kelsea Ballerini made it back on this list—a casualty of Chris Stapleton’s massive 2015 CMA’s. But is her momentum still strong enough to best Maren Morris? Maren feels like the hot hand right now.

Kelsea Ballerini
Brothers Osborne
Maren Morris – WINNER
Old Dominion
Cole Swindell

Musical Event

Cool to see a song from the Dave Cobb-produced Southern Family get a nomination, and Morgane Stapleton can now boast being officially nominated for a CMA. But this will go to someone else. Beyond that, hard to call.

“Different for Girls,” Dierks Bentley featuring Elle King
“Home Alone Tonight,” Luke Bryan featuring Karen Fairchild
“The Fighter,” Keith Urban featuring Carrie Underwood
“Think of You,” Chris Young with Cassadee Pope
“You Are My Sunshine,” Morgane Stapleton with Chris Stapleton

Music Video

Anyone but Dierks please. ANYONE but Dierks. Chris Stapleton had an excellent video for “Fire Away,” and it should win, but Cam’s video was strong too. The “Humble & Kind” video fell flat, but could still garner the sympathy vote, and “Record Year” was not bad. Usually this field is terrible, this year it’s quite strong, once again signaling positive changes in the mainstream.

“Burning House,” Cam – Potential Winner
“Fire Away,” Chris Stapleton – Potential Winner
“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw
“Record Year,” Eric Church
“Somewhere on a Beach,” Dierks Bentley


Mac McAnally won this seven straight years, and now he’s not even nominated. Anyone should win except Dan Huff. But he will based not off of his playing, but his production work.

Jerry Douglas (Dobro/lap steel)
Paul Franklin (steel guitar)
Dann Huff (guitar) – WINNER
Brent Mason (guitar)
Derek Wells (guitar)