The 2018 CMA Awards Complete Preview

(Tune in Wednesday night for Saving Country Music’s LIVE Blog of the CMA Awards)


When: 7 p.m. Central, 8 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, November 14th 2018 on ABC.

Where: The Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN.

Hosts: Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood (11th consecutive year)


• Ricky Skaggs will be honored, likely by some of the “special appearance” artists that have been announced such as mandolin maestro Sierra Hull, fiddle wunderkind Carson Peters, and Marty Stuart (see full list below). Skaggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year, making him a great candidate for the CMA Awards to honor. But there may be a second honor for a more contemporary artist as well.

• It may start to feel like a broken record, but Chris Stapleton could have another big night. He’s up for a field-leading 7 awards, including Entertainer of the Year, which he may have a decent shot at in a fractured field. Other important awards to watch would be Album of the Year, and if Kacey Musgraves can possibly pull off an upset, Chris Janson could have an important night up for three awards, but don’t bet on him to beating out Luke Combs for New Artist of the Year. Also the Carrie vs. Miranda for Female Vocalist of the Year is always an interesting thread. Miranda is well past her album cycle, and Carrie is just now starting hers. Either could win, or maybe Maren Morris slips in between.

• Garth Brooks will unveil a new, unnamed single that is said to be a tribute to his wife Trisha Yearwood. In typical Garth Brooks fashion, he first said he wasn’t going to perform this year, unless the CMA would allow him to perform the song. After some drama, the CMA apparently caved. It’s reminiscent of when Garth Brooks held the Super Bowl hostage in 1993 so they would play his weird and controversial video for “We Shall Be Free.”

• There won’t be as many pop collaborations as in previous years, unless some pop up unannounced. Bebe Rexha performing with Florida Georgia Line is the only planned pop collaboration.


Artist presenters will include Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, Lady Antebellum, LANCO, Little Big Town, Dustin Lynch, Martina McBride, Carly Pearce, Trisha Yearwood, and Lionel Richie.

Non artist presenters include Sharna Burgess from Dancing with the Stars, radio host Bobby Bones, 2012 Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, actress Mackenzie Foy, actor Dennis Quaid, Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things, and actress Rita Wilson.

UPDATE: Lara Spencer from Good Morning America has also been added as a presenter.


Luke Bryan will open the show singing “What Makes You Country” with guests.

Chris Stapleton will collaborate with Maren Morris and Mavis Staples.

Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line will sing “Meant To Be.”

Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean will sing their duet “Drowns The Whiskey.”

Dierks Bentley and the Brothers Osborne will sing “Burning Man.”

Garth Brooks will unveil a brand new song dedicated to his wife, Trisha Yearwood (see above).

Brad Paisley will sing his just-released single “Bucked Off.”

Ricky Skaggs will perform, and there will be a tribute to him that will probably include some of the “Special Appearance” artists (see below) like Marty Stuart and Sierra Hull.

Other Performers Include:

  • Brett Young
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Dan + Shay
  • Eric Church
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Keith Urban
  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Lauren Alaina
  • Luke Combs
  • Midland
  • Old Dominion
  • Pistol Annies
  • Thomas Rhett

“Special Appearances” Include:

  • Ashley McBryde
  • Carson Peters
  • Chris Janson
  • Cole Swindell
  • David Lee Murphy
  • Jon Pardi
  • Lindsay Ell
  • Marty Stuart
  • Sierra Hull
  • Vince Gill


“Marry Me” by Thomas Rhett has already won in early awards for Video of the Year, and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” by David Lee Murphy and Kenny Chesney has won for Musical Event of the Year.

Entertainer of the Year

Once again a sausage fest, but who is the woman you would nominate here? Miranda Lambert hasn’t released a record in two years, and Carrie Underwood is just entering her album release/tour cycle.

Jason Aldean very well might win this with the continued, and surprising strength of his record Rearview Town. Aldean’s traditionally been snubbed by the CMAs. Now he may walk away with the biggest trophy to go beside his two consecutive ACM Entertainer of the Year Awards. But he’ll have to beat out Luke Bryan to do it (whose What Makes You Country has been selling unusually slow). Touring always plays a role in this award, but all of these dudes are just about evenly matched. Stapleton right now is descending until he releases new music.

Jason Aldean – WINNER
Luke Bryan – Other Potential Winner
Kenny Chesney
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban

Male Vocalist of the Year

You’re not even nominating Luke Bryan for this award? My how the mighty have fallen. We’re used Jason Aldean getting snubbed by the CMA, but yikes. Blake Shelton also has to be wondering what happened while Thomas Rhett and Luke Combs land nominations. Nonetheless, Chris Stapleton has to be considered a frontrunner. The CMAs love to nominate Keith Urban, but then keep his seat occupied beside Nicole Kidman all night as the couple politely claps for the winners. Dierks Bentley doesn’t have the muscle for this, despite a good new album. Luke Combs’ inclusion here pretty much assures him New Artist of the Year.

Dierks Bentley
Luke Combs
Thomas Rhett
Chris Stapleton – WINNER
Keith Urban

New Artist of the Year

Luke Combs should win this, and likely will win this. He’s the actual “new” artist who’s been making waves in the mainstream who critics and peers respect. They squeeze Lauren Alaina in here because they wanted a woman in the category, but she released her first album SEVEN years ago. It’s a joke to include her here when Ashley McBryde and others would make great picks. Brett Young has been recycled through this category before. Great costumes, but Midland shouldn’t win this.

Lauren Alaina
Luke Combs – WINNER
Chris Janson
Brett Young

Song of the Year

Folks, this is supposed to be about a song that impacts music and society to some big degree. Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow,” Jamey Johnson’s “In Color,” “Murder on Music Row,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” are all previous winners. And then this? Why is “Body Like a Back Road” even here? It was nominated LAST YEAR too.

“Drunk Girl” by Chris Janson is the song that should win. “Drowns The Whiskey” is also pretty good, and is spending its 2nd week at #1 on radio as the nominations come out. We know the CMA loves to vote for Stapleton, so don’t rule out “Broken Halos.”

“Body Like A Back Road,” Sam Hunt
“Broken Halos,” Chris Stapleton – Other Potential Winner
“Drowns The Whiskey,” Jason Aldean w/Miranda Lambert – Other Potential Winner
“Drunk Girl,” Chris Janson – SHOULD win
“Tequila,” Dan+Shay

Single of the Year

Gonna be hard to deny “Meant To Be” this for it’s supposed “record-setting” run on top of the charts. Though it’s all due to fixed numbers and fuzzy math, that’s just the ugly reality. The CMAs sure really like Dan + Shay’s “Tequila,” but I just don’t see the star power behind it. “Drowns The Whiskey” would be the runner up, but voters will likely throw their weight behind it as the “Musical Event” as opposed to this.

“Broken Halos,” Chris Stapleton
“Drinkin’ Problem,” Midland
“Drowns The Whiskey,” Jason Aldean & Miranda Lambert
“Meant To Be,” Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha – WINNER
“Tequila,” Dan+Shay

Vocal Duo of the Year

For whatever reason, the hip thing to do over the last few award show cycles has been to deny Florida Georgia Line what is rightfully theirs commercially, and give this thing to Brothers Osborne instead. Hey, I’m not complaining, and with a well-received new record out there, hard to see Brothers Osborne not holding serve, even with FGL’s involvement with the monster Bebe Rexha single, “Meant To Be.” Maddie & Tae and Sugarland have no chance. Sorry Big Machine. Once again Dan+Shay sit in the offing as the curious golden boys of the 2018 CMAs, but hard to see them winning.

Brothers Osborne – WINNER
Florida Georgia Line
Maddie & Tae

Female Vocalist of the Year

Carrie Underwood should win, and Carrie Underwood probably will win. It’s an off album year for Miranda, and with the tabloid headlines (fair or not), some voters will be leery to check the box beside her name. Maren Morris is the dark horse here, and could slide in since Carrie is just starting her album cycle as opposed to being right in the thick of it. But since Carrie’s new album will be delivered right as voting ballots are mailed, she will be top-of-mind.

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

Album of the Year

Very hard category to pick. We know CMA voters love Chris Stapleton, but it’s about time for that whole thread to start to fatigue. Also, Vol. 2 has been the weakest performing of all of his records. Golden Hour will be the critical favorite, but will it have the muscle to win? This leaves the door open for just about anybody, including Keith Urban’s godawful Grafitti U, or Thomas Rhett, who would win on commercial prowess alone. Dierks would be a fine pick, but it’s hard to see it winning unless votes are spit up so much, it ends up as the last man standing. Very hard to call here.

Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Vol. 2
Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
Keith Urban, Graffiti U
Thomas Rhett, Life Changes
Dierks Bentley, The Mountain

Vocal Group of the Year

Ugh. We know how much awards shows love Little Big Town. And Big Machine has to win something, and Midland is a hot name.

Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town – Potential Winner
Midland – Potential Winner
Old Dominion

Musical Event of the Year – WINNER Announced

“Burning Man,” Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne
“Dear Hate,” Maren Morris ft. Vince Gill
“Drowns The Whiskey,” Jason Aldean ft. Miranda Lambert
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” David Lee Murphy and Kenny Chesney – WINNER
“Meant To Be,” Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line

Music Video of the Year – WINNER Announced

“Drunk Girl” should be the big competitor here, and this may be a good consolation prize if it doesn’t win Song of the Year. “Cry Pretty” should also be a contender, but this award annually is anyone’s guess, going to whomever they want to give a 2nd tier CMA Award to as opposed to who deserves it.

“Babe,” Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift
“Cry Pretty,” Carrie Underwood
“Drunk girl,” Chris Janson
“Marry Me,” Thomas Rhett – WINNER
“Tequila,” Dan+Shay

Musician of the Year

Jerry Douglas – Dobro
Paul Franklin – Steel Guitar
Dann Huff – Guitar
Mac McAnally – Guitar
Derek Wells – Guitar