After the weeks of buildup — both literally and metaphorically — the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will finally dole out its prizes Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Given the super-sized ceremony’s location this year, it’s fitting that Texas native Miranda Lambert leads the field with eight total nominations, including nods for entertainer, female vocalist and album of the year.
She’s followed closely by Dierks Bentley, who heads into Sunday night’s three-and-a-half-hour live broadcast with seven nominations; the duo Florida Georgia Line, which picked up five nominations, and Kenny Chesney, Eric Church and co-host Luke Bryan, all of whom have four nominations.
Here are some guesses as to who will leave Arlington a winner.
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Entertainer of the year
Nowhere is the division between Nashville’s past, present and future more evident than in this category. Garth Brooks is in the mix, along with Lambert, Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean.
Although Brooks’ much-ballyhooed comeback (he last won ACM entertainer of the year in 1998) has proved to be a box office beast, this contest comes down to 21st-century superstars. In that regard, it seems a bare-knuckle brawl between Lambert and Aldean, with a slight edge to the Lindale native, who competed for this honor last year, but didn’t win.
Should win: Miranda Lambert
Will win: Miranda Lambert
Male vocalist of the year
Featuring the peculiar sight of the night’s co-hosts — Bryan and Blake Shelton — competing against one another alongside Aldean, Bentley, Church and Brad Paisley, this contest would seem to favor Church, who’s the most distinctive singer here (Paisley’s more of a guitar slinger than a vocalist). Perhaps Shelton snags the trophy, but this faceoff feels like Church’s to lose.
Should win: Eric Church
Will win: Eric Church
Female vocalist of the year
To a lesser degree than entertainer of the year, this quintet of women also represents a microcosm of Nashville’s once and future glories. Relative upstarts Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves vying for the prize next to established superstars like Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood — with Lambert splitting the difference between the two factions — makes for a competitive category, but it’s one that Lambert, who won last year, should take home again.
Should win: Kacey Musgraves
Will win: Miranda Lambert
Leave aside, for the moment, the troubling notion that all three nominees here — Sam Hunt, Cole Swindell and Thomas Rhett — are white males, ignoring a whole swath of deserving female and minority artists (such as, say, Arlington native Mickey Guyton).
Of these three, only Hunt is attempting something new with country music, smashing down genre boundaries (name another rising country star who is comfortable covering Drake) and redefining what it means to be a Nashville rebel.
Should win: Sam Hunt
Will win: Sam Hunt
Album of the year
Neither Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt or Bentley’s Riser left much of an impression, making this a three-way race between Lambert’s Platinum, Church’s The Outsiders and Little Big Town’s Pain Killer (the record with the mystifyingly controversial single Girl Crush).
As with many of the categories in which she’s nominated, this, too, feels like Lambert’s to lose, although don’t be surprised if Church pulls an upset.
Should win: Eric Church, The Outsiders
Will win: Miranda Lambert, Platinum
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713
The 50th Annual ACM Awards
▪ 7 p.m. Sunday
▪ AT&T Stadium, Arlington
▪ KTVT/Channel 11