The CMA Awards have a built-in reason to watch, namely the Brad and Carrie show.
Praise has been heaped on Neil Patrick Harris by everyone (present company included) for his awards show-hosting prowess, but Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood have quietly become the most reliable awards show hosts in the business.
Together or on their own, the hosts provide an annual scream. (I have not been able to listen to Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass the same since last year's show, when Paisley told her that to make it country, she should just sing bass, as in the fish.)
And there are a number of intriguing reasons to watch this year beyond finding out what the hosts will do.
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Kentucky music fans in particular have to be excited for Chris Stapleton, a Lexington native raised in Eastern Kentucky whose solo debut album, Traveller, has earned him three nominations: male vocalist of the year, album of the year and new artist of the year.
After turning up its nose to widely acclaimed 2014 releases from Kentuckians such as Sturgill Simpson's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, it is nice to see a quality effort from a home state star get some CMA love.
It will be a surprise if Stapleton wins any category. The CMAs are largely a popularity contest, and he's probably the least popular artist in every slot; his male vocalist competition is Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church and Blake Shelton. But then again, this is the same CMA that gave Kacey Musgraves song of the year for the somewhat controversial — in country circles — Follow Your Arrow. So, if the Country Music Association is feeling unpredictable again, maybe Stapleton will benefit.
Further nominations for Musgraves' latest album, Pageant Material, as well as Little Big Town's Pain Killer and Maddie & Tae's Girl in a Country Song, just might indicate that the CMA — if not country as a whole — is ending its adolescent male era.
Give props to WBUL-FM for getting the entire new artist of the year slate, save for Stapleton, to Lexington in the past year in either the Acoustic Jam or the Red, White and Boom shows.
Another reason to watch the CMAs , as with many award shows, is the artist pairings. Sometimes these can be a tad head-scratching, such as last year's teaming of Ariana Grande and Little Big Town, which was only slightly less weird than the Doobie Brothers being the show's grand finale.
I love genre-jumping as much as anyone in Lexington, but having the Doobies as the closer on your country music show makes about as much sense as going out with Stevie Wonder, which the Academy of Country Music did a few years ago. Sometimes I wonder if country music lacks self-confidence for the amount of time it spends co-opting other genres.
The pairing to look forward to this year is John Mellencamp coming in to perform on Keith Urban's bass jaunt, John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16, co-written by Virgie native Josh Osborne.
Mellencamp makes complete sense on a country show because, even though he has been considered rock from the get-go, his music has been as deeply rooted in Americana as country aspires to be. There are roots of my teenage self being willing to give country a chance in Mellencamp hits such as Cherry Bomb, accented with Lisa Germano's violin. The most intriguing pairing — no, not Fallout Boy and Thomas Rhett (!) — has to be Dierks Bentley and contemporary violin star Lindsey Stirling. I would never imagine those two together if you gave me all day.
Of course, there are popular things to watch for too. Will Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton's holds on the female and male vocalist titles, respectively, hold up — and how many divorce jokes will we hear? — and the much ballyhooed Brooks & Dunn-Reba McEntire pairing.
All that, and the Brad and Carrie show should be fun, too.