If the Country Music Association was going to set up a special dressing room for its entertainer of the year nominees, it would do well to put in a couple of leather couches, a box of cigars, ESPN on the tube and a sign on the door proclaiming, “Men Only.”
All five nominees — seven if you count Rascal Flatts as three instead of one — are men. It was the same last year — and the year before that, and the year before that. One has to go all the way back to 2001, when the Dixie Chicks were nominated, to find a woman on the list.
By at least one measure, country fans aren’t pleased. A national survey conducted recently by Country Music Television found that 74 percent of respondents thought women should have been included in this year’s entertainer category, with Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill the two favorites.
“What it’s saying to me is that in the mind of the country music audience, the definition of what they feel is entertainer of the year has changed pretty dramatically over the last couple of years,” said Jay Frank, CMT’s senior vice president of music strategy.
Entertainer of the year is the CMA’s top award and is influenced by tour success as well as by album sales, hit songs and other achievements. The awards will be handed out Wednesday night in Nashville and broadcast live by ABC.
Most years the nominees are veteran acts, or at least established stars who’ve paid their dues. This year’s nominees are Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, George Strait and Keith Urban — the same lineup as last year when Chesney won, except that Brooks & Dunn were in the mix instead of Strait.
Chesney also won the award in 2004, while Urban took it in 2005. Strait won in 1989 and ’90.
Ticket sales weigh in
Scott Stem, the CMA’s director of media relations, said voters put a lot of weight on concert ticket sales, and for the past several years male artists have outsold female artists.
“The only exception was the amazing Tim McGraw/Faith Hill tour of the past two years,” Stem said. “We may never know why these two deserving artists didn’t receive entertainer nominations, but one guess is that voters may have been confused on how to nominate them appropriately since it was a co-headlining tour.”
Lon Helton, editor and publisher of the trade publication Country Aircheck, said it’s ridiculous to suggest discrimination as the reason more women aren’t nominated.
Rather, he thinks the nominees are a reflection of the industry, which he believes tilted toward male stars after a strong run by females in the ’90s with Hill, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood and others.
“The country music audience used to be split 51 to 49 female to male, and now it’s skewing about 57 percent female. There’s a theory that women really like to see male artists,” Helton said.
Women have taken prize
A number of women have won the CMA’s highest honor over the years, including the Dixie Chicks, Twain, McEntire, Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
Hill, who’s been nominated for entertainer once, in 2000 when the Chicks won, and Underwood were obvious choices this year.
Hill and McGraw co-headlined one of the top-grossing concert tours of the year. Her 2005 album “Fireflies” reconnected her with country radio in a big way, and she released a greatest hits collection last month that debuted at No. 3. She’s also been singing the opening theme to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” this season.
Meanwhile, Underwood’s 2005 debut “Some Hearts” sold more than 6 million copies, a phenomenal number for any artists let alone a new one, and her follow up, “Carnival Ride,” was No. 1 last week on both the pop and country charts, selling more than 500,000 in its first week — one of the year’s best debuts. Though the former “American Idol” champ is not headlining her own tour yet, she’s clearly one of the year’s most visible country performers.
If the CMA and the overall industry have a bias, said Wade Jessen, director of country charts at Billboard magazine, it’s against new artists — not women.
“I don’t think country radio, and as an extension Nashville as a music center and the CMA as an awarding body, has ever been accused of being ahead of the curve or even up with it in the newcomer category,” Jessen said.
But the CMA has gone against the grain before. Garth Brooks won the Horizon award for newcomers in 1990, then won entertainer of the year in 1991. Similarly, the Dixie Chicks won the Horizon in 1998 and entertainer in 2000.
Jessen said someone will always be unhappy with the CMA’s choices because there are more artists than there are nominations and awards to go around. He said he would hate to see political correctness mandate that a certain number of women or new artists or independent labels be represented in the nominating categories.
“The top vote-getters are the top vote-getters,” Jessen said. “If you look at it too critically, you’re always going to find flaws in a number of these categories.”