At Sunday night’s 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards held in Las Vegas, Big Machine Records recording artist Justin Moore walked away with the night’s coveted “New Artist of the Year” prize. “I was beginning to think there was a height requirement,” Justin Moore joked in his acceptance speech, before getting very emotional after receiving his very first industry award. However, Justin Moore was clearly ineligible for the award according to the ACM’s stated rules. Moore’s nomination and win calls into question the legitimacy of the ACM Awards, the effectiveness of its rules, and the ethics behind the organization. Beyond Justin Moore not passing the eyeball test as someone most country fans would not consider to be a “new artist” since he signed to Big Machine in 2008, had a #1 single in 2009, and a #1 album in 2011, there are concrete ACM requirements for the award that Justin Moore does not pass. The ACM’s rules for New Artists clearly state:
Any solo artist that has sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album (with general exclusions of specialty albums, such as seasonal or live recordings) according to Nielsen SoundScan, are not eligible for this category.
Justin Moore is the owner of two separate albums that sold more than 500,000 copies: His self-titled Justin Moore album released on August 11th, 2009 that has been certified gold with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me released on June 21st, 2011 that has been certified gold with 577,000 copies sold.
In early February, the Academy of Country Music’s President Bob Romeo responded to the calls for a clarification on Justin Moore’s eligibility in a story published on MusicRow.com. Bob Romeo stated in part:
The Board finds that being in step with trends and acknowledging the country music landscape has improved our process and guaranteed the best candidates over the years. This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Board’s right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success.
In short, Bob Romeo & the ACM’s Board of Directors decided to call upon a provision in the rules that states that the rules “may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music.” However the rules were never amended in the case of Justin Moore, only broken. The ACM’s set the precedent of changing the rules before nominees were announced if they felt a potential nominee was being excluded by them in 2009, when the sales requirements for the Album of the Year award were reduced to 300,000 so Jamey Johnson’s critically-acclaimed That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. The ACM’s also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing the nominees too early.
Accusations of backroom deals, block voting, and vote swapping have swirled around the ACM Awards for years. But now that they have clearly violated one of their own stated rules and let an artist win an award he’s clearly ineligible for, the calls for more transparency and fairness at the Academy of Country Music could get much louder, especially from the fans of artists who lost out to an ineligible nominee.