55th CMA Awards Nominations: First-Glance Predictions, Snubs & Surprises

by Jim Casey

The Country Music Association announced the nominations for the 55th annual CMA Awards this morning (September 9). The 55th CMA Awards will take place in Nashville on November 10. In the meantime, let’s dissect.

Of course, this is the perfect opportunity for a reflexive critique of everything the CMA voters got right and wrong. Sure, it’s just one opinion, but it makes for a lot of fun. Let’s tackle five of the heavy-hitting categories with a wide-angle lens, sans any in-depth research.

Here are my first-glance predictions, snubs, and surprises for the CMA nominees, which were based on the eligibility period July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

CMA Entertainer of the Year

  • Eric Church  
  • Luke Combs   
  • Miranda Lambert    
  • Chris Stapleton  
  • Carrie Underwood   

Snub: Luke Bryan deserves to be in the mix (Idol, No. 1 album, multiple No. 1 singles).

Prediction: Church won last year. Stapleton doesn’t get serious consideration in this category for some reason. Carrie and Miranda split the vote, which paves the way for Luke Combs to win his first CMA Entertainer of the Year.

Single of the Year

  • “Famous Friends” – Chris Young with Kane Brown  
  • “The Good Ones” – Gabby Barrett  
  • “Hell Of A View” – Eric Church  
  • “One Night Standards” – Ashley McBryde  
  • “Starting Over” – Chris Stapleton 

Snub: Luke Combs’ “Forever After All” spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

Prediction: Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones.”

Album of the Year

  • 29 – Carly Pearce 
  • Dangerous: The Double Album – Morgan Wallen  
  • Heart – Eric Church  
  • Skeletons – Brothers Osborne  
  • Starting Over – Chris Stapleton  

Surprises: Carly Pearce and Brothers Osborne. Both albums are deserving. I’m just surprised—and happy—to see both getting their due.

Snubs: Loretta Lynn’s Still Woman Enough and Miranda Lambert’s Marfa Tapes.

Prediction: Are CMA voters ready to take Morgan Wallen back? It’s sounding like it. Wallen’s album was a monster on the charts, but I’m leaning Stapleton. From start to end, Starting Over is top notch.

CMA Song of the Year (songwriters)

  • “Forever After All” – Luke Combs, Drew Parker, Robert Williford  
  • “The Good Ones” – Gabby Barrett, Zach Kale, Emily Landis, Jim McCormick 
  • “Hell Of A View” – Casey Beathard, Eric Church, Monty Criswell  
  • “One Night Standards” – Nicolette Hayford, Shane McAnally, Ashley McBryde 
  • “Starting Over” – Mike Henderson, Chris Stapleton  

Prediction: “Forever After All” was the biggest song of the year, but dark horse “One Night Standards” is the best written. Upset alert: “One Night Standards.”

Female Vocalist of the Year

  • Gabby Barrett 
  • Miranda Lambert    
  • Ashley McBryde   
  • Maren Morris   
  • Carly Pearce  

Snub: Carrie Underwood. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to justify Carrie in the CMA Entertainer of the Year category, without a nomination as Female Vocalist of the Year. It happens, but it never makes sense to me.

Prediction: Gabby Barrett is the most deserving this year. She’s on fire—vocally speaking, but so is Carly Pearce. Gabby for the win.

Male Vocalist of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley 
  • Eric Church    
  • Luke Combs   
  • Thomas Rhett   
  • Chris Stapleton   

Surprise: Oh, Dierks, it’s always an honor to be nominated—again, and again, and again. I guess this isn’t really a surprise.

Prediction: Letter of the law: Chris Stapleton should always win this category. Vocally, Chris is unmatched. But, Luke Combs will win CMA Male Vocalist for the third year in a row.