“I think it’s going to be different next year.”
Those were Reba McEntire’s words backstage at the 2019 ACM Awards when reporters asked for her thoughts on the fact that only three women won trophies that night.
This year, it looks like McEntire’s prophecy might come to pass because when the nominees for the 55th annual ACM Awards were revealed Thursday (Feb. 27), 28 women received new nominations. Female artists are represented in every main category where they are eligible, including the night’s top honor of Entertainer of the Year, which lists Carrie Underwood, and Album of the Year, which features collections by Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert. In 2019, 18 women were nominated for ACM Awards.
Morris is a lead 2020 nominee with five nominations, tying her with Thomas Rhett and producer Dann Huff. Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Ashley McBryde follow with three nominations each. Lambert has won the Female Artist of the Year honor nine times, more than any other woman in the ceremony’s history. She shares her nomination for Music Event of the Year for “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” with Morris, McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack and Elle King. McBryde’s nomination for Song of the Year for “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” counts twice as the song’s co-writer.
Nominees in the off-camera categories include hit-maker Hillary Lindsey (Songwriter of the Year), Jenee Fleenor (Specialty Instrument Player of the Year), Stacy Vee (Promoter of the Year) and Nina Rojas (Don Romeo Talent Buyer of the Year).
The eligibility period to be considered for the 55th Annual ACM Awards ran Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2019. Keith Urban will host the telecast live from Las Vegas on April 5 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. The ceremony marks the second ACM Awards since the organization’s launch of a task force that examines the barriers and biases affecting women and underrepresented groups in country music.
Here are the top career highlights of the female nominees in the ACM Awards’ main categories.
Entertainer of the Year
Underwood had a stellar 2019 with her Cry Pretty Tour 360 that hosted several sold-out engagements, including New York’s Madison Square Garden, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and L.A.’s STAPLES Center. Throughout the production, she continued to exhibit that she is one of the most consistent powerhouse vocalists of today and performed 22 different instruments with an athleticism that is unmatched by any artist in her field. She is the only woman to land four country albums at the top of the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Her platinum album Cry Pretty has yielded four hits so far including the platinum-selling “The Champion” and the gold-certified “Cry Pretty,” “Love Wins” and “Southbound.” She returned for her seventh season as the voice of NBC’s Sunday Night Football. She celebrated the fourth anniversary as the lead designer for her fitness and lifestyle brand, CALIA by Carrie Underwood. Her first book, FIND YOUR PATH: Honor Your Body, Fuel Your Soul, and Get Strong with the Fit52 Life, arrives March 3. She is also among the headliners for April’s Stagecoach music festival in Indio, Calif.
Female Artist of the Year
By 2019, Ballerini became the only female country artist to achieve three consecutive No. 1s from a debut album. She received her fifth career No. 1 with the platinum “Miss Me More,” and became the youngest performer to join the Grand Ole Opry. Additionally, the year included her first arena tour, the Miss Me More Tour with Brett Young and Brandon Ratcliff, her highest single debut to date with “homecoming queen?” and a CMT Crossroads with Halsey.
The year 2019 saw the release of Lambert’s Wildcard album, which is arguably one of her most influential works to date, and the return of her successful all-female tour, the Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars Tour. The fall run included performances by Morris, Elle King, Pistol Annies, Tenille Townes, Ashley McBryde and Caylee Hammack. Her non-profit the MuttNation Foundation was on-hand at each tour stop collecting supplies and cash donations for a pre-selected local shelter through the Fill the Little Red Wagon drive, an initiative that continues on her current Wildcard Tour. It also marked the second year of her Idyllwild clothing brand.
Morris’ trajectory as an icon in the making continued with the release of her sophomore album, GIRL. Upon its release, the collection shattered the record for the largest ever debut streaming week for a country album by a woman with 23.96 million streams. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Her latest single “The Bones” has just become the first multi-week country radio No. 1 from a woman since 2012.
It’s hard to imagine a moment when Musgraves didn’t absolutely rule 2019. Her overall Album of the Year Grammy win cemented her status as one of today’s most daring music makers. And it made her songs virtually inescapable throughout popular culture. She became the first-ever female country artist to play Coachella, performed at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in South Africa, and she continued to be a festival favorite at Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Governors Ball and the Newport Folk Festival. Additionally, she played two sold-out nights each at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre and New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, before wrapping her international Oh, What a World: Tour II with her first-ever arena show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
Duo of the Year
Maddie & Tae
Maddie Marlow and Taylor Dye continued to build a loyal following on Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360 and the release of two EPs, One Heart to Another and Everywhere I’m Goin’. The duo announced their Tourist in This Town tour, which launches April 15 in Baltimore, Md. with Avenue Beat. Their next album, The Way It Feels, arrives April 10.
Group of the Year
Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott
Scott and Lady A bandmates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood launched a new chapter in their careers with the release of their gold-certified OCEAN; their first album from the Big Machine Label Group (BMLG). Scott co-wrote three of the album’s 13 songs, including “Pictures.” The trio will launch the OCEAN 2020 Tour with Jake Owen and Maddie & Tae on May 21 in Albuquerque, NM. The seven-time Grammy-winning band earned their 10th career No. 1 with OCEAN’s lead single “What If I Never Get Over You” in January.
Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman
The year 2019 marked the year of “The Daughters” for Little Big Town. The release of Nightfall’s lead single marked a prolific new chapter for the band, which saw Fairchild co-write nine of the album’s 13 tracks and Schlapman co-write three. The band is nominated for Group and Video of the Year for “Sugar Coat,” directed by the sibling filmmakers Alexa Kinigopoulos and Stephen Kinigopoulos.
After making their red-carpet debut at the 54th annual ACM Awards, the group’s Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby went on to stage a historic performance at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival with several celebrity guests that included Dolly Parton and rising star, Candi Carpenter. Their 12-song, self-titled debut arrived Sept. 6, 2019. Shires initially came up with the idea of an all-women supergroup with a purpose to demonstrate the importance of inclusion and collaboration. When she presented her idea to Brandi Carlile, Carlile ran with it and recruited Morris and Hemby to join the band.
New Female Artist of the Year
The proverbial seeds Andress sowed in 2019 to promote music from her forthcoming album, Lady Like (out March 27), yielded a bountiful harvest of placements on some of 2020’s most highly anticipated tours. She opened for Keith Urban during his Las Vegas residency. She joins Dan + Shay’s North American arena tour in March, and she will help Thomas Rhett launch his Center Point Road tour in May before supporting Tim McGraw on his Here On Earth stadium tour this summer. The country radio community voted her to be among the New Faces of Country Music class of 2020.
Independently releasing her breakout debut, “I Hope,” changed everything for Barrett in 2019. Taking on a life of its own, the song skyrocketed to No. 1 on SiriusXM’s “The Highway” Hot 30 Countdown and on Radio Disney’s Country Top 50 chart. The success led to a major label deal with Warner Music Nashville, which will release her full-length debut album later this year. The Pennsylvania native started singing in her local gospel choir and playing shows at age 11. She performed 136 shows in 2017 before rising to national prominence as a Top 3 finalist on ABC’s American Idol.
Ell had a landmark 2019 which included standout performances at Summerfest, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, and the completion of her inaugural headlining tour. After successful surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells, Ell traveled the world more than ever with engagements in the UK, Germany, Amsterdam, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The Canada native also achieved her first No. 1 for the Brantley Gilbert collaboration, “What Happens in a Small Town.”
Owning one of the wildest life stories of any rising artist today, Hammack took the country music community by storm in 2019 with the release of her exultant debut single “Family Tree.” The 25-year-old singer has played some of the roughest honky-tonks in her native South Georgia. She had a two-pound tumor removed from her spinal muscles when she was 16; the same age she was when she put her first band together. She moved to Nashville at 19, lived out of her car in a Target parking lot parking for a few weeks and scored her first steady Nashville gig on Lower Broadway with a fake ID. She landed her publishing deal with Universal Music Group after two-and-a-half years of performing local writers’ rounds and Lower Broadway gigs as if they were part of a never-ending tour. She had just finished recording her debut single, “Family Tree,” when she lost her Nashville home to an electrical fire while she was out of town on a writers’ retreat with Brothers Osborne, Eric Paslay and Townes. Her latest single, the autobiographical “Small Town Hypocrite,” gets its vision from the breakup that inspired her to move to Nashville. She will return to the road in 2020 with upcoming support slots with McEntire this spring and Luke Bryan this summer.
Propelled by the success of her breakout single “Somebody’s Daughter,” Townes spent much of 2019 touring with Dierks Bentley and recording her upcoming, full-length album with producer Jay Joyce. Her 2020 tour schedule includes her headlining Road to Lemonade Stand Tour, shows with Alan Jackson and a performance at Stagecoach. Townes released her six-song EP Road to the Lemonade Stand on Feb. 7 as a preview of her upcoming album, which is expected this spring.
Song of the Year
McBryde is the ACM’s reigning New Female Artist of the Year. Her 2019 included stadium performances with George Strait and Eric Church, and the rise of her signature songs “One Night Standards” and the two-time, Grammy-nominated “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” She will release her sophomore album, Never Will, on April 3. The latest single from the forthcoming collection, “Martha Divine,” was co-written with Jeremy Spillman.