If someone on Chris Stapleton's label was trying to teach country radio a lesson, it came at the great expense of several fine artists - all of his competition for Male Vocalist of the Year.
Until I checked the nominations a few days ago, I'd never heard of Stapleton. I checked him out on i-Tunes and found one album released just a few months ago. I liked his version of Tennessee Whiskey but wasn't that excited about anything else.
I believe that the CMA's ought to have a hard and fast rule. If you are nominated for new artist (a category foolishly renamed from the catchy Horizon Award many years ago) then you should not be eligible for either of the vocalist of the year awards. Kelsea Ballerini as another name I didn't think I'd heard of but oh, yeah, she has one charting song. And she was also nominated in one of the highest honors.
The reason is simple. If you are just starting out, you are not yet at the level of the vocalist of the year or entertainer of the year. Many would argue that Stapleton in his mid-30's has done his time, has written many hit songs. Well, he isn't alone. Lots of artists - almost all of them - spent a good 10 years playing the clubs and maybe writing for other people before having success on their own. In fact, every one of the other contenders for male vocalist of the year built their careers that way. And they worked their way up the awards chain too. It wasn't handed to them at other artists' expense.
The reason I think that many of us had never heard of this artist is that country radio plays the same artists over and over. I think someone on Stapleton's label (Mercury) decided they would campaign the CMA to get him awards and then country radio would have to take notice. Well, it worked. Yet the loser in this little political game was whichever of the deserving candidates didn't take home last nights award. All of them were more deserving of an award that should reflect a years worth of recording, performing and vocal quality. And by the way, album of the year should have gone to Jason Aldeen, not Stapleton.
You see if the CMA wasn't so petty as to keep punishing artists for their personal lives - Aldeen last year with no nominations and Kenny Chesney losing Entertainer of the Year when he was the very clear winner the year he divorced after a brief marriage - they wouldn't need to make up for themselves. They did that last night by feeling bad for Miranda Lambert and handing her an award she did not this year deserve. Blake Shelton probably should probably go ahead and make other plans for next year's award night.
The female vocalist of the year has become a category where no one truly wins. There isn't enough competition. And if you don't have enough viable candidates you don't fill out your ballot with newbies or people who haven't recorded anything that year. You leave those spots open. That would be the way to send a message to the record labels that they need to develop female talent. And it would not come at anyone's expense.
The one win for the night was Little Big Town's Girl Crush. Well written and performed, it was this year's clear winner for song and single of the year.
Today for the first time ever I heard Stapleton on the radio. Politics often works but it always leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths.