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10 Reasons We’re Tuning In to the 2015 CMA Awards

Who will Brad and Carrie snark on? Will “Girl Crush” crush it? Is Miranda’s Vocalist streak over?

Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood

Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood return as hosts for next week's CMA Awards.

Group LA/ABC/Getty

They don’t call it "country music's biggest night" for nothing.

The 49th annual CMA Awards, airing on ABC November 4th, will boast at least 16 performances, with about two dozen of country music's biggest names and special guests from outside the genre hitting the stage over the course of the show's three-hour running time. Hosted for the eighth time by the dynamic duo of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, this year's ceremony could include some surprise wins in hotly contested categories. Also lined up for the evening are several interesting pairings of voices, including Entertainer of the Year nominee Eric Church and Hank Williams, Jr., who will kick off the proceedings with Bocephus' cover of Neil Young's "Are You Ready for the Country," which seems like an apt place to start.

Here are the top 10 reasons to make plans with your couch and remote control next Wednesday night.

Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney's 'The Big Revival' vies for the Album of the Year with four other nominees.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

10

Album of the Year Nail-Biter

Jason Aldean's Old Boots, New Dirt, Kacey Musgraves' Pageant Material, Chris Stapleton's Traveller, Kenny Chesney's The Big Revival, and Little Big Town's Pain Killer all vie for this coveted honor. Will Chesney's across-the-board success carry him over the top? Will the momentum of "Girl Crush" extend to the album category for LBT? Do upstarts Musgraves and Stapleton have a chance against the more established artists? This is arguably the toughest category to predict in the entire show.

Little Jimmy Dickens

Little Jimmy Dickens is among the late country stars being honored mid-show.

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

9

In Memoriam

It was a tough year for loss in the country music community, and things will get emotional if the show follows tradition by tipping its cap to those who have moved on, including session man and songwriter Bobby Emmons, CMA-winning singer Lynn Anderson, Grand Ole Opry stalwart and recent Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Jim Ed Brown. Finally, we're guessing respects will be paid to the great Little Jimmy Dickens, a regular presence at the CMA Awards at the side of good buddy Paisley.

Little Big Town

Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" stands to win in two categories.

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8

Double Dippers

Both the Single and Song of the Year categories feature a person in the exciting but unenviable position of competing against themselves. In the Song category, songwriter-producer Shane McAnally is nominated for co-writing two smashes: Kenny Chesney's "American Kids" and Sam Hunt's "Take Your Time." Producer Jay Joyce has two shots in the Single category, thanks to his work on both Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" and Eric Church's "Talladega." Given its dominance in the headlines and the charts, we're thinking "Girl Crush" — written by Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna — will be steamrolling both categories.

Maddie & Tae

Several months after Tomato-gate, the women of country music are gearing up to dominate the CMAs.

Rick Diamond/Getty

7

Ladies’ Night

After a year in which the discussion of women struggling to get airplay on country radio was a hot topic, it's nice to see the CMA Awards' producers book so many females to perform on the show. Underwood, Lambert, Maddie & Tae, Ballerini, Musgraves, Reba and the women of Little Big Town are all scheduled to hit the stage. Our only complaint: Where is the stage time for veteran nominees like Womack?

Sam Hunt

Sam Hunt battles Thomas Rhett and others in the New Artist race.

Mat Hayward/Getty Images

6

New Artist Competition

As far as fresh faces go, this contest is all over the map with the sassy duo of Maddie & Tae squaring off against cutesy "Dibs" singer Ballerini, the grittier stylings of Stapleton and the pop-soul infused sounds of Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett. Given Hunt's massive emergence and crossover success, the "Take Your Time" singer probably has it in the bag.

Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton is up for three awards, including Male Vocalist of the Year.

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5

Three Cheers for Stapleton

Speaking of Stapleton, the singer-songwriter — long a hit-maker and backup vocalist for many of the night's other nominated artists, penning "Drink a Beer" for Luke Bryan and "Crash and Burn" for Thomas Rhett — got some well-deserved nominations for Traveller, his stunning debut album as a solo artist. More traditional then many of his competitors, Stapleton will be competing in three categories: Male Vocalist, Album and New Artist of the Year.  Like Womack's nod, this is a positive sign that the CMA voters really do recognize quality.

Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert

Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, both reigning champions in their own categories, face stiff competition this year.

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4

Passing of the Vocalist Torches?

For years, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert have taken home the trophies for Male and Female Vocalist of the Year. Each half of the recently divorced couple will be going for six consecutive wins next week, although they both face stiff competition. Lambert is up against friend, formidable singer and "Somethin' Bad" duet partner Carrie Underwood, who just released her new album Storyteller, as well as newcomer Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves, and Lee Ann Womack (whose superb album, The Way I’m Livin,' deserves its share of props). Meanwhile, Shelton must topple Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Bryan and Chris Stapleton, the latter of whom would, as all the nominees would likely agree, win hands down if it was based purely on vocal ability.

Keith Urban, John Mellencamp

Keith Urban and John Mellencamp are among the evening's handful of duet partners.

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3

Perfect Pairs?

The show opens with the contemporary/classic match-up of Church and Williams, but what are the odds that Neil Young himself might show up? (We're guessing very small.) In the outliers category, New Artist nominee Thomas Rhett teams up with pop-rockers Fall Out Boy, which will surely garner a vocal reaction from viewers. Dierks Bentley, who competes in the Male Vocalist category, has been paired with violin sensation Lindsey Stirling for what should be an electric performance. Brooks and Dunn will perform with frequent collaborator (and their own personal Vegas showgirl), Reba. And when Keith Urban and John Mellencamp join forces to sing Urban's hit "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16," will Mellencamp just point to himself during the chorus?

Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan

Reigning Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan is up against Garth Brooks this year.

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2

The Entertainer Race

Luke Bryan is the reigning champ in this category, but a repeat win might prove difficult with the return of Garth Brooks, whose comeback album — while soft in terms of hits — has yielded a smash, record-breaking tour.  And both of those men, as well as Church and lone female contender Miranda Lambert, will have to face down Kenny Chesney, who roared back from a year off to release an album that spawned four Number One singles and a massive stadium tour.

Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood

Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will host the show for the eighth year.

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1

The Monologue

The list of possibilities is ripe for the show's familiar hosts, who've developed a playful chemistry over the years with their combination of jokes, songs and guest appearances. Their targets range from the safe — think Donald Trump's presidential run and Taylor Swift's ascendance to pop domination — to the much more delicate. Will they comment on the splits of country couples like Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire and Narvel Blackstock? Underwood and Paisley, both of whom will also perform their own songs, have their work cut out for them.

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