Music

CMA Awards 2023 Predictions: Who Will Win the Top Honors?

The 57th annual CMA Awards will take place Wednesday (Nov. 8) at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with returning hosts country superstar Luke Bryan and legendary NFL hall of famer Peyton Manning. For the second consecutive year, Lainey Wilson leads all nominees with nine nominations, followed by Jelly Roll with five and Luke Combs and HARDY landing four.

Chris Stapleton and Carrie Underwood are both seeking  their first entertainer of the year award after multiple nominations. Stapleton, Brothers Osborne and Old Dominion will see if their multi-year streaks for male vocalist, vocal duo and vocal group, respectively, continue. This year also includes some surprises, including Tracy Chapman receiving her first nomination for a 35-year-old song, and Wilson swiftly ascending to entertainer of the year category from winning best new artist only a year ago.

The eligibility period for the 2023 show, which will air live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET,  is July 1, 2022-June 30, 2023. According to CMA rules, “singles, albums, music videos and qualified music products for the annual show must have been released or reached peak national prominence during the eligibility period.” More than 7,300 members of the country music industry vote for the nominees and winners through three rounds of voting.

Here are Billboard’s predictions in select categories on who will emerge victorious, from Melinda Newman (executive editor, West Coast and Nashville), and Jessica Nicholson (staff writer, Nashville). So they wouldn’t influence each other, the two did not compare notes on their picks.

Entertainer of the year

Luke Combs

Chris Stapleton

Carrie Underwood

Morgan Wallen

Lainey Wilson

Newman: It’s only been a year since Wilson earned her first CMA Awards nominations (and wins), so her ascent into the entertainer category feels, perhaps, a tad speedy. The other four nominees have been here before, including last year, with Combs prevailing. This year marks Stapleton’s and Underwood’s seventh and sixth nominations in the category, respectively, yet neither has won the award, and, despite strong touring efforts in 2023, it feels like they will go home empty-handed again. This year is a race between Combs, who is seeking his third crown, and Wallen, who is after his first. Both have ascended to stadium-act status, and both have had unbelievably successful years at radio. If there was ever a year for a tie, this might be it, but Combs made the leap to multi-continent international touring sensation this year, so he has a slight advantage.

Will win: Luke Combs

Nicholson: While each of the nominees has had an incredible year, it seems that Combs and Wallen are the front-runners in this race. Both have battled it out in the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100 (with Wallen’s “Last Night” spending 16 weeks atop the chart, and Combs’s “Fast Car” reaching No. 2). Combs is already a two-time winner and the reigning champ in this category, while Wallen’s One Thing at a Time has dominated the Billboard 200 this year, with 16 weeks atop the chart. Both have had major stadium runs this year, with tours that have taken them to overseas markets as well as domestic shows. Wallen’s 2023 tour began with shows in Australia and New Zealand, and included stops in Canada, but Combs’s 2023 trek visited Australia, Canada and multiple countries in Europe, which might give him the edge here.

Will win: Luke Combs

Single of the year

Award goes to artist(s), producer(s) and mix engineer(s)

“Fast Car” – Luke Combs (Producers: Luke Combs, Chip Matthews, Jonathan Singleton, Mix Engineer: Chip Matthews)

“Heart Like A Truck” – Lainey Wilson (Producer: Jay Joyce, Mix Engineers: Jason Hall, Jay Joyce)

“Need A Favor” – Jelly Roll (Producer: Austin Nivarel, Mix Engineer: Jeff Braun)

“Next Thing You Know” – Jordan Davis (Producer: Paul DiGiovanni, Mix Engineer: Jim Cooley)

“wait in the truck” – HARDY (feat. Lainey Wilson) (Producers: HARDY, Joey Moi, Jordan Schmidt, Derek Wells, Mix Engineer: Joey Moi)

Newman: It’s a little surprising that Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night,” which spent a staggering 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, didn’t get a nod here, but voters leaned toward heavier fare for the most part, favoring murder ballad “wait in the truck,” Jelly Roll’s redemption-seeking “Need a Favor” and Combs’ poignant remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” Davis was a runner-up last year with “Buy Dirt” and this year’s entry, “Next Thing You Know,” mines the same family-oriented theme, while Wilson’s “Heart Like a Truck” is pleasing, traditional country. All were hits, reaching the top 2 of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, but the meaty songs here resonated strongest this year, with “wait in the truck” hitting the hardest thanks to HARDY and Wilson’s gravitas-filled vocals.

Will win: “wait in the truck”

Nicholson: This year’s category is packed with hits, including a double-header of chart songs from Wilson (“Heart Like a Truck” and “wait in the truck” with HARDY). Jelly Roll’s rock-infused plea “Need a Favor” is here, as is Jordan Davis’ quieter chart hit, the sentimental “Next Thing You Know.” In terms of chart successes, Combs’s rendition of the Tracy Chapman classic “Fast Car” has been a sales juggernaut, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spending five weeks atop the Country Airplay chart. This crossover hit was inescapable this year, which leans the odds in Combs’ favor.

Will win: “Fast Car”

Song of the year

Award goes to the songwriters

“Fast Car” — Songwriter: Tracy Chapman

“Heart Like A Truck” — Songwriters: Trannie Anderson, Dallas Wilson, Lainey Wilson

“Next Thing You Know” — Songwriters: Jordan Davis, Greylan James, Chase McGill, Josh Osborne

“Tennessee Orange” — Songwriters: David Fanning, Paul Jenkins, Megan Moroney, Ben Williams

“wait in the truck” — Songwriters: Renee Blair, Michael Hardy, Hunter Phelps, Jordan Schmidt

Newman: The same songs nominated for single of the year are competing here except for “Need a Favor,” which has been replaced by “Tennessee Orange.” It would be something if Chapman won for “Fast Car,” a song that is as heartbreaking today as it was upon its initial release 35 years ago, but that seems unlikely. Other than “Fast Car,” the artists all had a hand in writing the songs they performed and that emotional  investment reverberates here. “Tennessee Orange” served as a beguiling introduction to Moroney, while “Heart Like a Truck”  showed the vulnerable side of Wilson. “Next Thing You Know” felt like Davis has found his lane that celebrates family and “wait in the truck” refused to pull its punches as it shined a harsh light on domestic violence. The winning song doesn’t need to necessarily make a statement, but “wait in the truck’s” fearlessness in embracing the darkness feels like an achievement worth heralding.

Winner: “wait in the truck”

Nicholson: Most of the same songs nominated in the single of the year category repeat here, including “Fast Car,” “wait in the truck,” “Next Thing You Know” and “Heart Like a Truck.” Wilson’s collaboration with HARDY and her solo “Heart” followed similar chart trajectories this year. “Heart Like a Truck” was named song of the year at the industry-voted NSAI Nashville Songwriter Awards, and it could very well follow that up with a win in this category.

Will win: “Heart Like a Truck”

Album of the year

Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, Ashley McBryde

Bell Bottom Country, Lainey Wilson

Gettin’ Old, Luke Combs

One Thing At A Time, Morgan Wallen

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, Kelsea Ballerini

Newman: From Kelsea Ballerini’s intensely personal statement of reclaiming her own life after her divorce to Ashley McBryde’s vivid imaginary community in Lindeville, all the nominees here created works that connected with fans and advanced their artistry. Luke Combs’ set is the companion to last year’s winner, Growin’ Up, that celebrates the singer/songwriter embracing middle age. Lainey Wilson graduated to budding superstar status with Bell Bottom Country, which felt like a mission statement as she grew more confident in her delivery and message. It already seemed like Wallen couldn’t rise higher, but One Thing at a Time topped the Billboard 200 for 16 weeks, the most since Adele’s 21 in 2011-12. All will stand the test of time as high-water marks for each artist, but McBryde brought us into a world in an innovative, original way that felt uniquely immersive.

Will Win: Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville

Nicholson: This category celebrates an array of styles, from Wilson’s hippie-country Bell Bottom Country project to Ballerini’s heart-on-her-sleeve Rolling Up the Welcome Mat album, Combs’s hit-filled Gettin’ Old album, and McBryde’s collaborative, creative Lindeville project, which featured John Osborne, Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, Aaron Raitiere, Benjy Davis and more.

The undeniably red-hot hit project of the bunch has been Wallen’s One Thing at a Time, which has spent 16 weeks atop the Billboard 200. Still, this is a category where voters have often awarded creative impact over commercial success, so McBryde and her Lindeville cohorts could pick up the win here.

Will win: Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville

Female vocalist of the year

Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert

Ashley McBryde

Carly Pearce

Lainey Wilson

Newman: The same vocalists as last year are competing except for Carrie Underwood, whose slot is filled by a deserving Kelsea Ballerini. Given that she’s been nominated, or won, 16 out of the last 17 years, it’s odd not to see Underwood’s name here, but she’ll definitely be back. Lambert’s been on a bit of a break since parting ways with Sony Nashville, so this is more of a four-way race between the other women. All have had strong years, but Wilson feels unbeatable for the second year in a row.

Will win: Lainey Wilson

Nicholson: Lambert is the winningest nominee in the category, with seven prior wins. Though every nominee here had a stellar touring/performing year, on the recording front, Lambert and Pearce had relatively quieter years. Pearce teamed with Chris Stapleton for the ballad “We Don’t Fight Anymore,” and Lambert paired with Leon Bridges for “If You Were Mine.” Ballerini released one of her most personal, expressive albums to date with her divorce record, Rolling Up the Welcome Mat. Wilson is the reigning champ in this category, and seemed to be ubiquitous this year, thanks to heavy touring, a trio of songs surging up the charts, awards show appearances and a campaign with Wrangler. Wilson seems to be a lock in this category.

Will win: Lainey Wilson

Male vocalist of the year

Luke Combs

Jelly Roll

Cody Johnson

Chris Stapleton

Morgan Wallen

Newman: Jelly Roll replaces Eric Church in this year’s list of finalists and it’s hard to overstate the year he’s had, but the same could be said for all the contenders, including second-time nominee Wallen, who won the title at the ACM Awards in May. Either Stapleton or Combs has taken home the award the past eight years, with Stapleton winning a record-setting six times. Despite Stapleton’s once-in-a-generation voice, it’s undeniably Wallen’s turn.

Will win: Morgan Wallen

Nicholson: This is a stacked category, with Combs, Jelly Roll, Cody Johnson, Stapleton and Wallen all vying for the honor. Wallen, Jelly Roll and Johnson are all hoping to pick up their first wins, against veteran winners Stapleton (six times) and Combs (twice). Stapleton is a perennial favorite in the category, and Combs, Jelly Roll and Johnson have all had solid years, but given Wallen’s juggernaut touring in addition to the chart success of “Last Night” and One Thing at a Time, it looks like this could be the year he cinches a win.

Will win: Morgan Wallen

New artist of the year

Zach Bryan

Jelly Roll

Parker McCollum

Megan Moroney

Hailey Whitters

Newman: Bryan and Jelly Roll are already bonafide headlining arena acts, so it seems strange to even see them in this category, since their stars have ascended so quickly. Additionally, Bailey Zimmerman has dominated the charts in recent months with three Country Airplay No. 1s, so his omission is glaring. McCollum, Moroney and Whitters look like they’re all headed toward long, bountiful careers with Whitters snagging the top new female trophy at the ACM Awards. If voters are going by the numbers, it’s hard to deny Bryan or Jelly Roll, but, if like me, voters feel like they are both past the point of winning this award, Moroney could be the surprise winner.

Will win: Megan Moroney

Nicholson: Bryan is far and away the biggest success story of this crop of newcomers. He’s selling out stadiums nationwide and regularly notching songs and albums to the upper echelons of the all-genre Billboard charts. But Bryan’s comments following last year’s CMA Awards, could have deterred some CMA voters. “Handle on You” hitmaker McCollum, “Everything She Ain’t” singer Whitters and “Tennessee Orange” crooner Moroney have all made strides over the past year, but recent Billboard cover star Jelly Roll has been one of the biggest breakout artists, earning two No. 1 Country Airplay hits this year (including the four-week Country Airplay chart-topper “Need a Favor”) and currently enjoying a top 10 hit on the chart with his Wilson collab “Save Me.” Add in a top headlining tour, and this one is Jelly’s to lose.

Will win: Jelly Roll

Vocal duo of the year

Brooks & Dunn

Brothers Osborne

Dan + Shay

Maddie & Tae

The War And Treaty

Newman: Maddie & Tae are competing for the ninth time without a win, and they will likely go home empty-handed again, given Brothers Osborne have snagged the trophy five of the last seven years and Dan + Shay grabbed it the other two. Brooks & Dunn, who last won in 2006, are legends, of course, but it seems odd that they are even plunked into this category, since they exist primarily as an occasional touring act. The War And Treaty are a strong addition, but they likely can’t stop the momentum that the excellent Brothers Osborne continue to have.

Will win: Brothers Osborne

Nicholson: This year, 14-time category winners Brooks & Dunn face off against five-time category winners and reigning champs Brothers Osborne, as well as two-time winners Dan + Shay, Maddie & Tae and newcomers to the category, husband-and-wife duo The War And Treaty. Dan + Shay, Brothers Osborne and The War And Treaty all released new studio projects this year. Brothers Osborne scored a top 25 Country Airplay hit with “Nobody’s Nobody,” released their self-titled album and played a string of headlining shows, while Dan+Shay made media waves leading up to the release of their 2023 album Bigger Houses by revealing they nearly broke up, and earned a top 20 Country Airplay hit with “Save Me The Trouble.” Brothers Osborne’s labelmates The War And Treaty also scored a major chart hit this year with their Zach Bryan collaboration “Hey Driver” (which reached the top 20 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100). They’ve been opening tour dates on Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show (in addition to a string of overseas headlining tour dates) and have been ubiquitous on awards show appearances this year. All of these high-profile appearances could give W&T the edge.

Will win: The War And Treaty

Vocal group of the year

Lady A

Little Big Town

Midland

Old Dominion

Zac Brown Band

Newman: The nominations in this category have remained static for the past five years with the same acts vying for the title, with the exception of 2020, when a dissolving Rascal Flatts took Zac Brown Band’s spot. They are all worthy contenders, but, as with vocal duo, the category could benefit from some new blood or have voters pay a little attention to who else is making noise, like Parmalee, whose “Take My Name” was Billboard’s 2022 Country Airplay Song of the Year. Old Dominion continues to grow both creatively and commercially, so expect them to take home their sixth consecutive trophy in this category, tying Little Big Town’s six wins.

Will win: Old Dominion

Nicholson: Old Dominion has arguably been the most visible of this year’s nominees, thanks to to their album Memory Lane and their Country Airplay top 10 hit of the same name. Zach Brown Band earned a top 20 Country Airplay hit with “Out in the Middle,” but Old Dominion seems to be on track to extend their five-year winning streak.

 Will win: Old Dominion

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