Reba McEntire returns to host the Academy of Country Music Awards Sunday night, but she won’t attract the most attention. Carrie Underwood is expected to perform after months of recuperation following a fall.
Look for Carrie to get the headlines, no matter who wins the most awards.
More than likely, Chris Stapleton has a lock on the lion’s share of them. He scooped up Grammys and CMAs earlier and, with eight nominations, could be the one to beat. His best shot is in the Best Male Vocalist and Album of the Year categories.
Still, the ACM is known for going rogue in various categories and could surprise – particularly since it only nominated four entries in the Song of the Year category. (Among those snubbed: Taylor Swift for “Better Man.”)
Already, Lauren Alaina, Brett Young and Midland have been dubbed the Best New Female, Male and Duo/Group of the Year. That guarantees them a place at the table but it doesn’t tip the hat in other categories. Midland and Alaina have a chance to win elsewhere; Young is a one-and-done competitor.
Depending on sentiment, Underwood could take home the Female Vocalist and Vocal Event prizes. We think getting to sing her new single might be enough.
Meanwhile, Miranda Lambert has enough heft in secondary categories to assure she’ll win another Female Vocalist award. Next year, it’s likely Kasey Musgraves will best her. She just released a critically acclaimed album and Nashville is looking to anoint a successor.
Beyond that, the night is wide open.
By category, here’s what to consider:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: This seems like a slam dunk for Chris Stapleton, particularly since he won the prize elsewhere (including the Grammys). The category has been viewed as a place where others get recognized if they don’t win Vocalist or Group awards. Spoiler: Thomas Rhett for “Life Changes”
SINGLE RECORD OF THE YEAR: “Better Man” was everywhere last year and helped boost Little Big Town to headliner status. Interestingly, the group’s touring partner, Midland, could slip in with “Drinkin’ Problem.” Stapleton wins here only if he owns the night.
SONG OF THE YEAR: “Whiskey and You” isn’t from this year’s album, still it’s a Chris Stapleton song. Because the #metoo movement is so strong, this is a great place for Keith Urban to shine with “Female.” Give him the trophy.
VIDEO OF THE YEAR: Here’s a Thomas Rhett category. His “Marry Me” was made for this. Otherwise, look for Dierks Bentley to get a little love for “Black.”
EVENT OF THE YEAR: Who has the sentimental vote? Is it the late Glen Campbell? The returning Carrie Underwood? Maren Morris, with two nominations in the category? Or two newcomers (Kane Brown and Laura Alaina)? Gut instinct says Willie Nelson and Campbell win.
MALE VOCALIST: Chris Stapleton (with Keith Urban and Thomas Rhett as very slight spoilers).
FEMALE VOCALIST: Miranda Lambert
DUO: Brothers Osborne (even though Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are here for the first time)
GROUP: Little Big Town (spoiler: Midland)
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Garth Brooks should be the all-time Entertainer of the Year, but if the ACM wants to send a message, voters might pick Chris Stapleton or – and this is our choice – Keith Urban.
The Academy of Country Music Awards airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS.