Brad Paisley could finally win the CMA's coveted entertainer of the year trophy Wednesday night — but he'll have to best another veteran and three relative upstart acts to make it happen.
Paisley — who is also hosting the 44th Country Music Association Awards with Carrie Underwood — has been nominated for the award every year since 2005. Though he's won 13 CMAs since first being nominated in 2000, he's never won the biggest award.
Paisley is a favorite to win. But he faces tough competition from Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum, Zac Brown Band and former winner Keith Urban.
The entertainer of the year category underwent something of a makeover this year as the CMA membership installed a new wave of performers in key categories, acknowledging a crossover trend that is bringing country music to more new ears than ever.
The list of omissions in that category is long and includes Underwood, last year's winner Taylor Swift and several highly successful acts long considered contenders.
Still, there's no questioning the impact Lady A, Zac Brown Band and Lambert had on the industry over the past year.
"I think it's just time," said Lambert, who is the leader among all nominees and celebrates her 27th birthday on Wednesday. "You can't deny the things that we're doing. ... I just feel like this new crop, it's not that we're pushing out the older generation. It's just that there's so much great stuff right now there's room for both finally."
Lambert rode the popularity of her acclaimed platinum album "Revolution" to a leading nine nominations, the most for a woman in the 44-year history of the CMAs and the second most overall. Both of her No. 1 hits, the sassy "White Liar" and the moving "The House That Built Me," are nominated in two categories, song and single of the year.
Lambert and BFF Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, up for five awards, are nominated together in several categories. The one that likely means the most to both is album of the year.
Lambert won that trophy at The Academy of Country Music Awards in April and it means a lot to her. At the time, Lady A was cheering her on over their own entry, the trio's self-titled debut. They released "Need You Now" in January, though, and it's sold about 3 million copies so far this year. It has produced three No. 1 hits, and they're proud of it.
Cheering for Lambert this time? Not so much.
"We definitely want to win it but if we can't we're definitely not going to be upset if Miranda runs away with it," said singer Charles Kelley. "I mean Dave (Haywood) and I even have a song that we wrote with Miranda and Blake on that record ("Love Song"). We would still feel some kind of pride in that."
Lady A, Lambert and Paisley are among the performers at the CMA Awards, which will air live on ABC. The show will also mark the debut singing performance of Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow, who stars with Tim McGraw in the upcoming movie "Country Strong."