American Songwriter Predicts CMA Award Winners

With the CMA Awards just around the corner, literally, taking place at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville on Wednesday, November 8, the American Songwriter staff took it upon ourselves to share our thoughts on who will win country’s biggest night.

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As you’ll see, Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll seem to be the front runners amongst our staff, but as we’ve seen in the past, the awards shows are sometimes unpredictable. However, if the previous year is any indication of what’s to come, then it’s Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll’s year. Tune in to ABC on Wednesday night to see your favorites take home the trophy.

Let us know if you agree or have picks of your own.

Here’s how to watch: Watch the 2023 CMA Awards

Entertainer of the Year

  • Luke Combs
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Morgan Wallen
  • Lainey Wilson

Lisa Konicki: Lainey Wilson—2023 has been her year and she’s not stopping. The Entertainer of the Year award will just put a cap on an already stellar year. As history shows, it’s a long shot for a woman to grab this award, but Lainey’s momentum is undeniable and will push her to the top.

Annie Reuter: Lainey Wilson is a powerhouse entertainer and no one deserves this award more than her. She’s a mainstay on airwaves and has toured consistently the past year, from her in-demand headlining trek to coveted spots with fellow EOTY nominee Luke Combs and HARDY, her live show is not to be missed. 

Tina Eves: Bell Bottom Country is still going strong. This is the year of Lainey.

Jake Uitti: Lainey Wilson. It’s just her time. Luke Combs has won the award and he’s probably her only competition here.

Alex Hopper: Undoubtedly, Lainey Wilson will take home Entertainer of the Year. Though every artist on that list is worthy of the title, none of them have had more of a skyrocketing year than Wilson has.

Cillea Houghton: Luke Combs. Though I think Lainey Wilson is a very close second, I have a feeling Combs will take this one since he’s been consistently headlining (and selling out) stadiums for upwards of two years.

Lorie Liebig:
It should be Lainey Wilson’s year, but I am not 100% convinced that the CMAs will pivot away from Luke Combs’ two-year-long reign. No one has had the same caliber year as Wilson, and with no female artist earning the title since Taylor Swift did in 2011, she seems like the obvious choice here.

WINNERS:
LAINEY WILSON – 6
LUKE COMBS – 1

Single of the Year

  • “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)

Lisa: It’s a toss-up between Jelly Roll’s “Need a Favor” and Hardy’s “wait in the truck.” The edge goes to “wait in the truck” because it’s been winning everything else this year and Lainey Wilson is attached to it. Enough said. 

Annie: Country music has long been known for its murder ballads, and the genre has been long overdue for a modern-day murder ballad. HARDY and Lainey Wilson’s “wait in the truck” was a standout this year.

Tina: Luke Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” may be the surprising win, though “Need a Favor” keeps coming through for Jelly Roll.

Jake: “Fast Car” because it’s the song of the year. Though my next guess would be Jelly Roll’s “Need a Favor.”

Alex: Two superstars are often better than one. That being said, I have to go with “wait in the truck.” This track has double the star power. Moreover, the song’s powerful message strikes a chord each and every time I hear it.

Cillea:
“Fast Car.” Tracy Chapman wrote and sung an incredible song that’s spoken across generations, so much so that Luke Combs felt compelled to cut his own version more than 20 years. Even if Combs does take home the prize, Chapman is the real winner.

Lorie: This is a tough one, but I think “Heart Like a Truck” is the defining breakout song for Lainey Wilson. It will probably go to Jelly Roll, but this category is one of the hardest to predict every year, leaving plenty of room for HARDY to sweep in here too.

WINNERS:
“wait in the truck” – 3
“Fast Car” – 3
“Heart Like a Truck” – 1

Possible Surprise Win- “Need a Favor”

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

Lisa: Lainey Wilson – did I mention it is her year? 

Annie: Lainey Wilson’s Bell Bottom Country has been on repeat for me this year. It is her year and with two No. 1 singles off the project (“Watermelon Moonshine” and “Heart Like a Truck”), Wilson should be going home with this trophy. 

Tina: Bell Bottom Country will keep going strong.

Jake: Lainey again. If she’s going to be Entertainer of the Year, she’s going to win Album of the Year, too.

Alex: I have a feeling Luke Combs might take this one. There are many stellar songs on Gettin’ Old. Plus, his runaway hit “Fast Car” is on the track list, giving it even more of an edge.

Cillea: Lainey! She’s pretty unstoppable at this point. While the other candidates are strong, I don’t think they can overtake the power that is Lainey Wilson. Plus, Bell Bottom Country is a solid country album.

Lorie: My personal favorite on this list is Lindeville, but I think Bell Bottom Country will come out on top here.

WINNERS:
Bell Bottom Country – 6
Gettin’ Old – 1

Song of the Year

  • “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

Lisa: I’m gonna go with “Fast Car” here, only because I think Lainey cancels herself out with “wait in the truck” and “Heart Like a Truck” (split votes), and “Fast Car” became an undeniable hit all over again.

Annie: “wait in the truck” should win this one. HARDY and Lainey’s vocal performance alone impresses, but it’s also a standout story song written by HARDY, Renee Blair, Hunter Phelps, and Jordan Schmidt. Country music needs more story songs and murder ballads!

Tina: The recent resurgence of “Fast Car” with Luke Combs’ rendition may just crack Wilson’s winning streak a bit.

Jake: “Heart Like A Truck.” It’s a Lainey sweep! Normally, I’d pick “Fast Car” because it was so big this year, but I think because the song is older it’s not gonna finish first.

Alex: The success of “Fast Car” has been so interesting to watch. Clearly, Tracy Chapman’s lyrics are timeless enough to become a hit twice over. Combs’ cover has been one of the most buzzed-about songs of this year. I don’t see why it wouldn’t win Song of the Year.

Cillea: “Wait in the Truck.” This song grabs your attention the moment you hear it and it won over critics and fans alike. The song’s dark subject matter, coupled with Wilson and Hardy’s commanding delivery, has it demanding the title of Song of the Year.

Lorie: I want to see “Fast Car” come out on top here. Combs’ ability to make the track his own and win over so many listeners is a testament to Chapman’s songwriting talents, which deserve to be celebrated.

WINNERS:
“Fast Car” – 4
“wait in truck” – 2
“Heart Like a Truck” – 1

Female Vocalist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde
  • Carly Pearce
  • Lainey Wilson

Lisa: Lainey Wilson – There’s no stopping this girl and she the reigning champ so it’s going back home with her.

Annie: I’m Team Lainey all the way. There is no artist working harder or with a bigger heart than Lainey Wilson right now. 

Tina: Lainey Wilson is what country needs right now.

Jake: Lainey! Lainey! Lainey! She’s as compelling a singer in country as there is.

Alex: Though I feel it might be Lainey Wilson, I’m gonna switch it up and go with Kelsea Ballerini. Her EP, Rolling Up the Welcome Mat, is a powerful expression of heartache and healing. I think she’s put out some of the most interesting music this year and hope she takes this one home.

Cillea: Lainey Wilson, no doubt. While all the women in the category stand out in their own way, this category is Wilson’s to lose based on all the love and success she’s rightfully received.

Lorie
: I think Wilson will also deservedly grab this one, but I also think Kelsea Ballerini could be a wildcard here. Rolling Up the Welcome Mat unexpectedly became her defining project, and I think it showcases her talents as a vocalist and writer in a way she hadn’t before.

WINNERS:
Lainey Wilson – 6
Kelsea Ballerini – 1

Male Vocalist of the Year

  • Luke Combs
  • Jelly Roll
  • Cody Johnson
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Morgan Wallen

Lisa: Jelly Roll—if the previous award shows are any indication, he’s the man of the hour. 

Annie: Luke Combs 100%. “Fast Car” was everywhere this year. You can’t turn on the radio without hearing one of Luke’s songs and his tour was unstoppable.

Tina: There’s only one spot at the top of this one, and it’s for Jelly Roll.

Jake: Jelly Roll. You can’t talk about country music today without mentioning the genre’s biggest rising star.

Alex: Gotta go with Luke Combs. With the success of “Fast Car” it stands to reason he would take this one home.

Cillea: Chris Stapleton. It could be argued that Stapleton is the best male vocalist in the genre, and he’s defended that title by winning in this category six times already. I don’t think this year will be different.

Lorie: Stapleton is my favorite vocalist in this bunch, but he’s already earned his accolades. I think it will probably be the year that Jelly Roll gets the spotlight. 

WINNERS:
Jelly Roll – 4
Luke Combs – 2
Chris Stapleton – 1

Vocal Group of the Year

  • Lady A
  • Little Big Town
  • Midland
  • Old Dominion
  • Zac Brown Band

Lisa: Old Dominion – They win every year. 

Annie: Old Dominion will take this award home for the sixth consecutive year. Their ability to write earworm radio hits surpasses everyone in this already stacked category.

Tina: Zac Brown Band—such diversity in what they approach. (They even collaborated with Jimmy Buffett!) This may be the year of the Zac Brown Band.

Jake: Zac Brown Band. It just seems that with every day he becomes bigger and bigger and this is the culmination.

Alex: Zac Brown Band always blows me away whenever I see them perform. Their prowess on their instruments is unparalleled and they are more than deserving of this award.

Cillea: Zac Brown Band. Even though Old Dominion has swept this category for several years, ZBB has had a comeback and I think has a winning chance of reclaiming this title.

Lorie: Old Dominion has won this every year since 2018, so I have a feeling their streak will continue. 

WINNERS:
Old Dominion – 3
Zac Brown Band – 4

Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Maddie & Tae
  • The War And Treaty

Lisa: Dan + Shay. They have new music and are on top of industry minds.

Annie: The War and Treaty have been everywhere this year–from surprise guests at festivals and award shows to popup shows around the country. Every time they get on stage the audience erupts at their powerhouse vocals and undeniable chemistry. They’re a much-needed breath of fresh air in the live setting and beyond.   

Tina: Though I’d like to see Brothers Osborne pick this one up, following the success of Dan + Shay’s Bigger Houses—and the fact that they are in line to be the first “coaching duo” on The Voice, season 25—this may be their win.

Jake: Brothers Osborne. Another coordination after a big year for the bros.

Alex: I’d love it if The War and Treaty were recognized with this award. Their vocals cut straight to the heart.

Cillea: The War and Treaty. While I love Brothers Osborne and they have dominated this category the past ___ years, I think that their friends (and first-time CMA nominees) The War and Treaty are going to take it this year. The husband and wife duo of Michael and Tanya Trotter absolutely deserve it from their incredible harmonies to lively stage presence. They’re the new act in country to beat.

Lorie: I think Brothers Osborne have earned this award with their stellar self-titled record, but they won that title last year. The War & Treaty are some of the best vocalists in the genre and deserve to get this one.

WINNERS:
Dan + Shay – 2
The War & Treaty – 4
Brothers Osborne – 1

Musical Event of the Year

  • “Save Me” — Jelly Roll (with Lainey Wilson) (Producers: Zach Crowell, David Ray Stevens)
  • “She Had Me At Heads Carolina (Remix)” — Cole Swindell & Jo Dee Messina (Producer: Zach Crowell)
  • “Thank God” — Kane Brown (with Katelyn Brown) (Producer: Dann Huff)
  • “wait in the truck” — HARDY (feat. Lainey Wilson) (Producers: HARDY, Joey Moi, Jordan Schmidt, Derek Wells)
  • “We Don’t Fight Anymore” — Carly Pearce (featuring Chris Stapleton) (Producers: Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Carly Pearce)

Lisa: “Save Me” – does it get hotter than Lainey and Jelly Roll right now?  Not this year. It goes to them.

Annie: “wait in the truck.” It’s Lainey’s year and HARDY is a favorite in the songwriting and artist community so I think a lot of people will be pulling for them across all parts of the industry. 

Tina: This song has been epic and will win: “Save Me” by Jelly Roll with Lainey Wilson.

Jake: “Save Me” because it’s one of the songs that fans can’t stop talking about. Aside from Lainey, it’s Jelly’s year.

Alex: It will likely be “Save Me.” Both Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson are on a hot streak right now.

Cillea: “Wait in the Truck.” This song is equal parts chilling and compelling. It’s what country storytelling is all about, and Wilson and Hardy deserve the win for digging into a dark, yet important subject matter of domestic violence.

Lorie: “Save Me” will probably win it, but it would be cool to see Jo Dee Messina take away a win as a result of Cole Swindell’s nostalgic tribute.

WINNERS:
“Save Me” – 5
“wait in the truck” – 2
(Either way, Lainey wins)

Musician of the Year

  • Jenee Fleenor
  • Paul Franklin
  • Rob McNelley
  • Derek Wells
  • Charlie Worsham

Lisa: Jenee Fleenor – She became the first female to win the award in 2022 and I think she will take it again. Besides who’s more deserving of a country music award than a fiddle player? 

Annie: Every musician in this category deserves the award, but I think Charlie Worsham is taking it home this year. When he’s not writing or releasing music of his own, he’s on the road with Dierks Bentley and Hot Country Knights or in the studio playing on everyone else’s records. 

Tina: Country seems to have a soft spot for Charlie Worsham right about now.

Jake: Derek Wells. When it comes to country music guitar players, there just isn’t anyone better right now. He deserves it.

Alex: Charlie Worsham. He is beloved in the country scene and a top-tier musician.

Cillea: I love Jenee Fleenor, but this time I’m voting for Paul Franklin. The number of albums he’s played on as a steel guitar player is astounding and he teamed up with Vince Gill on the Ray Price album “Sweet Memories” which further shows off his gift as a musician.

Lorie: Charlie Worsham deserves all the flowers!

WINNERS:
Charlie Worsham – 4
Jenee Fleenor – 1
Paul Franklin – 1
Derek Wells – 1

Music Video of the Year

  • “Light On In The Kitchen” — Ashley McBryde (Director: Reid Long)
  • “Memory Lane” — Old Dominion (Directors: Mason Allen, Nicki Fletcher)
  • “Need A Favor” — Jelly Roll (Director: Patrick Tohill)
  • “Next Thing You Know” — Jordan Davis (Director: Running Bear)
  • “wait in the truck” — HARDY (feat. Lainey Wilson) (Director: Justin Clough)

Lisa: 

Annie: “wait in the truck” grabs the viewer from the first second. The song already painted a vivid visual, but the video takes it to a whole new level. 

Tina: Jelly Roll manages to deliver a purity of emotions. It’s 100 percent heartfelt in every performance—and even comes through in a more produced music video.

Jake: “Need A Favor.” Jelly Roll has a way of getting attention and tugging on heartstrings and this video is example No. 1.

Alex: “Wait in the Truck” sees HARDY and Lainey Wilson flex their acting chops. The powerful song is only bolstered by this emotive visual.

Cillea: “Wait in the Truck” (but “Need a Favor” is a close second). The video is chilling, disturbing, and powerful – all compelling reasons for Hardy and Wilson to claim the win.

Lorie: I think this will be another tossup between HARDY with Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll, but I think “wait in the truck” offers the cinematic aspect that tends to capture CMA voter’s attention.

WINNERS:
“wait in the truck” – 4
“Need a Favor” – 2

New Artist of the Year

  • Zach Bryan
  • Jelly Roll
  • Parker McCollum
  • Megan Moroney
  • Hailey Whitters

Lisa: Zach Bryan—This would normally go to Jelly Roll but he’s got other wins tonight and Zach has had an amazing year, his meteoric rise is undeniable.

Annie: Hailey Whitters has spent twelve years into a ten year town grinding it out in Nashville as a singer/songwriter and 2023 is her year. Her star power is evident through the hit song “Everything She Aint,” but she’s been admired as a songwriter long before the song made it to the airwaves. 

Tina: Though Jelly Roll has had his winning streak, this year may go to Zach Bryan.

Jake: Jelly Roll. If not, it would be Zach Bryan and there could be an upset since Jelly will likely be so otherwise decorated tonight.

Alex: I’d love it if Megan Moroney won. “Tennessee Orange” was massive this year and her star seems to be on a steep incline.

Cillea: Jelly Roll. There’s arguably no one in this category who made a bigger impact on country this year than Jelly Roll. From his compelling backstory to his powerful songwriting, you can’t help but root for him. He deserves the win.

Lorie: I want to see Hailey Whitters get this one. She’s been working towards this moment for over a decade and the success of “Everything She Ain’t” deserves to be recognized.

WINNERS: (We’re very split here)
Jelly Roll – 2
Zach Bryan – 2
Hailey Whitters – 2
Megan Moroney – 1

Lainey Wilson Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images; Jelly Roll Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images; HARDY Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images.

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