While male artists continue to get all the love from the country music industry, often it's the Female Vocalist of the Year category that offers the most impressive collection of talent. That's the case once again at the upcoming 2016 CMA Awards, where six-time defending champion Miranda Lambert faces stiff competition.
Lambert will compete with Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood, and Kelsea Ballerini for the Female Vocalist trophy. With no new album and only one single (“Vice”) during the eligibility period, Lambert had a quiet year, and a lot of observers believe this is the year someone will be able to end her record winning streak. But who will it be?
Underwood is a strong contender. She won three consecutive Female Vocalist awards from 2006-08 and had one of the best years of her career. Her late 2015 release Storyteller produced the Top 5 singles “Smoke Break,” “Heartbeat,” and “Church Bells.” Underwood was rewarded with her first-ever Entertainer of the Year nomination. All of that gives her a great chance to take home a fourth Female Vocalist statue.
Complicating matters for both Lambert and Underwood, however, is the arrival of newcomer Maren Morris. The 26-year-old's major-label debut Hero is one of the most acclaimed albums of 2016 in any genre, and helped her score five CMA nods, including Album of the Year. Newcomers don't often win Female Vocalist of the Year, but they usually don't make the kind of huge impact that Morris did. Just as Chris Stapleton came out of nowhere to dominate last year's ceremony, Morris could end up winning this and many other categories.
Ballerini is another promising young star who picked up three straight No. 1 singles with “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs,” and “Peter Pan.” This could be her time to break through, although the emergence of Morris could block Ballerini's road to the trophy this year.
Musgraves figures to be a longer shot. Musgraves is a beloved figure within the industry and has taken home CMAs for Song of the Year and Best New Artist in the past. But she wasn't a presence on the charts this year, so it would be odd for voters to choose her this time around.
So who takes home Female Vocalist of the Year? Will voters stick with the old favorite in Lambert, go back to Underwood, or reward one of the newbies Morris or Ballerini? The prediction here is that Underwood and Morris will get most of the votes, and that Carrie Underwood will prevail in a very tight race.
The 2016 CMA Awards air from Nashville on ABC on Nov. 2. Underwood and Brad Paisley host for the ninth straight year.