For the second year in a row, the same five acts (all men, by the way) are nominated in the top category, entertainer of the year: Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, George Strait and 1996's champs, Brooks & Dunn. In fact, the reigning winners in all three big categories could repeat this year: Brooks & Dunn, female vocalist Patty Loveless and male vocalist George Strait.
Old fave Strait, whose whopping 42 nominations since 1981 rank second only to Merle Haggard's 43, has five chances in four categories: entertainer, male vocalist, best album (Carrying Your Love with Me) and two nominations for best single ("Carried Away" and "One Night at a Time").
Country music still can't get enough of little LeAnn Rimes. Shut out at last year's festivities (her vocal performances stole the show, however), the country wunderkind still racked up nominations for her year-old Blue album this time around. She's up for female vocalist, album and the Horizon award for career development (where she'll compete with the similarly monikered Lee Ann Womack). Her album's mega-selling title track, nominated as best single last year, is nominated as best song (for songwriter Bill Mack) this time around.
She'll be getting some stiff competition from Deana Carter, who tied Strait as the top nominee with five. Her rookie album, Did I Shave My Legs for This?, is up for best album. Her breakthrough losing-my-virginity hit, "Strawberry Wine," was nominated for both best single and video. She's also competing for female vocalist and the Horizon award.
Purists will undoubtedly cringe at the made-for-ratings inclusion of Sting (!?!) duetting with country boy Toby Keith on "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying"--a country-tinged number penned by Sting--and playing bass in an all-star jam. Sting has been making the rounds lately, backing Puff Daddy at the MTV VMAs and singing for Montserrat volcano victims last week.
It could have been worse for country aficionados, though. Ass-kicking movie star/holy lama Steven Seagal, who has recently been exploring his musical side, had reportedly lobbied hard to play some tunes, but the CMA mercifully nixed the idea.
Some other performers slated for tonight's shindig include Shania Twain (previewing her new single "Love Gets Me Every Time"), Chely Wright and Barbara Mandrell, Dean Cain's beloved Mindy McCready (Superman will be in the audience), George Jones, Strait, Carter, Rimes and Brooks & Dunn. Gill hosts the festivities airing live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET (tape-delayed to 8 p.m. PT).