Slow turnover among CMA Awards nominees has suddenly turned into a waterfall. The list of 2016 nominees includes first-timers, but excludes several long-timers. Maren Morris has seven nods approaching the show, while Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean have zero. One of the biggest hits of the year was shut out, while an unreleased album track earned a nod in the Vocal Event category.
Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood‘s “The Fighter” doesn’t make this list of surprises and snubs (it’s a great song, after all), but Underwood does solo. The 2016 CMA Awards present a first for the superstar, but it’s lining up to be another big night for country newbies.
Chris Stapleton is still a newcomer, but he joins a distinguished group of singers in the Entertainer of the Year category. Aldean was shut out of this category, despite winning the same award at the ACMs in April. Perhaps more than any previous year, the nominations are a reflection of voters looking to make a statement. It’s time for change — quick change. Out with the old and familiar (Aldean, Shelton, Miranda Lambert) and in with fresh new styles and perspectives (Morris, Stapleton, Joey + Rory?).
Read through our list of 2016 CMA surprises and snubs and then check out the full list of nominations below. The 2016 CMA Awards will air live on ABC on Nov. 2.
Snub: Florida Georgia Line, "H.O.L.Y."
By every metric, Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” is one of the top songs of 2016. Few songs have sold as many singles, and even fewer shot to No. 1 as quickly. The powerful ballad strikes the heart — there’s nothing disposable about the lead single from "Dig Your Roots." Yet you find just one nomination for FGL, in the Vocal Duo of the Year category. If nothing else, the snub illuminates the discrepancy between what voters with a radio background like and what they’ll play on their radio stations.
Surprise: Joey + Rory
Joey + Rory’s heartbreaking story captivated us all in 2015 and 2016, but one needs to think to recall what recording made them eligible for this category (they released a touching gospel album in February). Record labels do some heavy campaigning to get their artists nominated for awards, but a grassroots effort to include this duo overcame that. Should they win and Rory accept in front of millions on national television … it could be an all-time CMA Awards moment.
Snub: Jason Aldean
The 2016 ACM Awards Entertainer of the Year winner did not receive a single nomination for the 2016 CMAs. While the shows are different, they draw from a similar set of voters, and typically there’s heavy overlap (see Chris Stapleton). While Aldean was in between album cycles for part of the eligibility period, his live show should have earned him a nod in the Male Vocalist category, if not Entertainer of the Year.
Surprise: Chris Stapleton
Can you think of another Entertainer of the Year nominee with just one Top 10 song on his resume? Stapleton’s nod is a reflection of a movement in country music. Voters choose him as much for his music as for what he represents. It’s a shift in thinking after years (decades?) where chart placement, ticket sales and television appearances dictated who we chose. The surprise is not an unwelcome one.
Snub: Blake Shelton
You’ve received as many ACM and CMA Awards nominations as Blake Shelton in 2016. For a second straight awards show, Shelton is guaranteed to go home empty-handed. Actually, he was on our “Snubbed” list at the 2015 CMAs, as well. In fairness, it’s difficult to make a case for him in Male Vocalist of the Year over any of the five nominees. He could just be the sixth man in, first man out for many categories.
Surprise: Maren Morris
Five months ago, Maren Morris was not among the ACM nominees. Now, she leads all CMAs nominees with seven in five categories. If you’re looking for this year’s Chris Stapleton, stop searching. Like Stapleton, Morris is an industry favorite who has built a following on songwriting integrity and personal interpretations. She’s a true talent, even if she is something of an enigma.
Snub: Sam Hunt
Did Sam Hunt do something wrong? He may be working what seems like his 25th single from "Montevallo" to country radio, but he’s still one of the best new artists in country music, and he’s still very much eligible for New Artist for the Year. This one is a head-scratcher.
Surprise: Carrie Underwood
The real surprise is that Underwood has never been nominated for Entertainer of the Year. Never! A strong tour and critically-acclaimed album likely put her into the conversation for the very first time.
Snub: Chris Young
"Think of You" was nominated in the Vocal Event category, but it deserves more. In fact, Young's "I'm Comin' Over" album deserves more. He's listed as a snub, but really he's representative of a group of dependable, but not flashy artists that built radio playlists and sell concert tickets, but are overlooked in favor of someone with more edges. Thomas Rhett falls into this category (although that's changing), as does Jake Owen and the poster boy, Billy Currington. We love and hate the extremes, but we sure do vote for them.