NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The nominees for next week's country music awards are a bit more old school than some predecessors - and a lot more brawny.
For the first time in some 20 years, male singers took all five slots in both the entertainer of the year and newcomer categories.
Some say the nominations reflect a shift from pop-leaning, crossover acts such as Faith Hill and Shania Twain to the more male-dominated, traditional sounds of Joe Nichols and Buddy Jewell.
"I think the pop crossover songs are going to be out there. It's still an important part of the overall picture of the country music format, but the difference now is those songs will have to be phenomenal to cut through," said Joel Burke, program director for Denver country station KYGO-FM.
The Country Music Association's 37th annual awards show airs live from the Grand Ole Opry House at 8 p.m. EST Wednesday on CBS.
This year's nominees - chosen by 5,000 industry insiders who belong to the CMA - include a few classic country artists and several others who continue that tradition. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Johnny Cash are up for awards, as well as newcomers Jewell, Nichols and Gary Allan.
Toby Keith, who's had a string of testosterone-charged hits with "Who's Your Daddy," "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue" and "Beer For My Horses," leads all artists this year with seven nominations.
"We see that pendulum we're always talking about swinging again," said Ed Benson, the CMA's executive director. "In the last year or so, there's been a return to traditional country in sound and production. And I think the voters are trying to recognize a more real, traditional side."
Men are leading the way. During the first six months of this year, female artists accounted for only four of the 34 top 10 hits on Billboard magazine's country singles chart, according to Billboard. Only the Dixie Chicks managed a No. 1 hit.
The story was similar last year, with females scoring five top 10s and two No. 1s in the same period.
But in the first six months of 2000, women were strong on the charts - 10 top 10 singles by female artists, three of which hit No. 1. Back in 1998, women scored 14 top 10s in that period, half of them No. 1s.
Benson thinks the trend toward men began with a spate of patriotic anthems after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Country artists - men, mostly - were among the first to capture the mood in song.
Benson also believes males have became a larger share of the country music listening and buying audience.
Whatever the reasons, "the state of the female country singer is a little scary right now," said Dawn Michaels, assistant program director at country station WYGW-FM in Cincinnati.
In this year's CMA female vocalist category, Loveless and Parton are nominated with Terri Clark, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss. But Hill and Twain - each with successful albums and tours - received not a single nomination.
"I don't think country audiences were responding to it," Michaels said. "The Faith project especially. There were a lot of big ballads. Nothing like 'This Kiss' - songs that are fun."
Meanwhile, Loveless and Parton have received critics' praise in recent years for music that veers toward bluegrass, but neither has been a commercial force in a long time. Loveless' latest album, "On Your Way Home," came out in September and is her first mainstream country record in two years.
"I never expected to be nominated in that category, especially not this year," Loveless said. "The CMAs are about country music, and for two years there I was in the bluegrass and acoustic music world."
But McBride, the most pop-oriented artist in the female vocalist category, said the strength of industry-voted awards like the CMAs is that they recognize diversity within the genre and are not based on sales. Like motion pictures' Oscars, country music's CMAs don't always go to the big-budget blockbusters.
"It shouldn't be a popularity contest," McBride said. "I think it's great that these classic artists are still being recognized for their art."
List of nominees for the 2003 Country Music Association Awards
-Entertainer of the Year: Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw.
-Female Vocalist: Terri Clark, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton.
-Male Vocalist: Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, George Strait.
-Horizon Award: Gary Allan, Buddy Jewell, Joe Nichols, Blake Shelton, Darryl Worley.
-Vocal Group: Alabama, Diamond Rio, Dixie Chicks, Lonestar, Rascal Flatts.
-Vocal Duo: Bellamy Brothers, Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, Sons of the Desert, The Warren Brothers.
-Single of the Year (awarded to artist and producer): "Beer For My Horses" - Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson, produced by James Stroud/Toby Keith, Dreamworks Records Nashville; "Celebrity" - Brad Paisley, produced by Frank Rogers, Arista Nashville; "Have You Forgotten?" - Darryl Worley; produced by Frank Rogers/James Stroud, DreamWorks Records Nashville; "Hurt" - Johnny Cash, produced by Rick Rubin, Lost Highway Records; "Three Wooden Crosses" - Randy Travis, produced by Kyle Lehning, Word/Curb/Warner Bros. Records.
-Musician of the Year: Jerry Douglas - dobro; Paul Franklin - steel guitar; Aubrie Haynie - fiddle/mandolin; Brent Mason - guitar; Randy Scruggs - guitar.
-Album of the Year (awarded to artist and producer): "American IV: The Man Comes Around" - Johnny Cash, produced by Rick Rubin, Lost Highway Records; "Home" - Dixie Chicks, produced by Dixie Chicks/Lloyd Maines, Open Wide/Monument/Columbia Records; "Man With A Memory" - Joe Nichols, produced by Brent Rowan, Universal South; "Tim McGraw And The Dancehall Doctors" - Tim McGraw/Dancehall Doctors, produced by Byron Gallimore/Tim McGraw/Darran Smith, Curb Records; "Unleashed" - Toby Keith, produced by James Stroud/Toby Keith, DreamWorks Records Nashville.
-Music Video of the Year (awarded to artist and director): "Beer For My Horses" - Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson, directed by Michael Salomon; "Celebrity" - Brad Paisley, directed by Peter Zavadil; "Concrete Angel" - Martina McBride, directed by Robert Deaton/George J. Flanigen IV; "Hurt" - Johnny Cash, directed by Mark Romanek; "Red Dirt Road" - Brooks & Dunn, directed by Steven Goldmann.
-Vocal Event of the Year: Toby Keith duet with Willie Nelson - "Beer For My Horses"; Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett - "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere"; Kid Rock featuring Sheryl Crow - "Picture"; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band featuring Johnny Cash - "Tears in the Holston River"; Tracy Byrd (with Andy Griggs, Montgomery Gentry and Blake Shelton) - "The Truth About Men."
-Song of the Year (awarded to songwriter and primary publisher): "Beer For My Horses" - Toby Keith/Scotty Emerick, Tokeco Tunes/Big Yellow Dog Music; "Celebrity" - Brad Paisley, EMI April Music/Sea Gayle Music; "Have You Forgotten?" - Darryl Worley/Wynn Varble, EMI April Music/Pittsburg Landing Songs/Warner-Tamerlane Pub; "Red Dirt Road" - Kix Brooks/Ronnie Dunn, Sony/ATV; "Three Wooden Crosses" - Doug Johnson/Kim Williams, Mike Curb Music/Sweet Radical Music/Sony/ATV Tunes.
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