Winner predictions for the 53rd ACM Awards 2018
CBS This Morning

It's the year of Reba. Not only is the icon bucking social traditions as the first-ever female Colonel Sanders, but she makes her big return as host of the 53rd ACM Awards. On March 1, Reba enjoyed a stop on "CBS This Morning" to reveal the official ballot, which included such frontrunners as Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town and Maren Morris. Following the tragic shooting at the 2017 Harvest Music Festival, this will be the first major country gathering to take place in Las Vegas. While fans should probably expect a rather somber tone, Reba's typically witty, bubbly personality will certainly bring a bit of a lighthearted component.

But of course, the genre's biggest and brightest stars are verging onto the scene to celebrate the past year in music. From such big hits as Little Big Town's "Better Man" to Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road," Stapleton's "Broken Halos" and Midland's "Drinkin' Problem," country music was refreshingly diverse. While Lambert rode the critical wave of her 2016 double album, The Weight of These Wings, newer acts like Jon Pardi, Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina, Lanco, Old Dominion and Kane Brown continued to cement their place in the format.

Below, we take a stab at predicting who is likely to take home the night's biggest honors, from Single Record and Album of the Year to Female/Male Vocalist, Song, and Entertainer of the year.

The 2018 ceremony is slated for April 15 at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Related: Complete list of nominees for the 53rd ACM Awards (2018)

Here are our predictions:

Entertainer of the Year
Jason Aldean
Garth Brooks
Luke Bryan
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban

We'll begin by noting the lack of women (again) in the show's biggest category. But we digress. Stapleton keeps gaining steam with each passing release, and with two blockbuster-selling records under his belt in the past year, plus a slew of live shows, both big and small, he could earn his first Entertainer trophy. And we wouldn't be mad about it. Stapleton represents what country could be, in that he adhere's to a throwback kind of style while also combining blues and soul music into the fold. Brooks is perhaps his closest competitor and could very well take this, too.

Should Win: Chris Stapleton

Will Win: Garth Brooks

Female Vocalist of the Year
Kelsea Ballerini
Miranda Lambert
Reba McEntire
Maren Morris
Carrie Underwood

Morris is coming off the buzz of her first-ever No. 1 hit, "I Could Use a Love Song." The sparkling ballad is lifted from her oft-lauded debut LP, Hero. She has the most to gain from taking the title this year. While Ballerini has notched yet another No. 1 hit with "Legends," the lead-in to last fall's sophomore effort Unapologetically, she doesn't have quite the critical heft to snag the win this year. Meanwhile, Lambert and Underwood are between records, and McEntire is a legend in the twilight years of her career who continues churning out excellent music ⎯⎯ her gospel record, Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope, recently took home the Grammy Award for Best Roots Gospel Record

Should Win: Maren Morris

Will Win: Maren Morris/Kelsea Ballerini

Male Vocalist of the Year
Jason Aldean
Thomas Rhett
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban
Chris Young

Young returns to the category after a six-year dry spell. An underrated vocalist, his 2017 record Losing Sleep sees him slipping further into pop-fused music, and that shift might pay off here. Of course, that's if he can usurp Stapleton and sneak by Rhett, who is slowing inching into A-lister status. The race is tight here among those three, and it would be unsurprising to see any of them crowned the champ.

Should Win: Chris Stapleton

Will Win: Chris Stapleton

Vocal Duo of the Year
Brothers Osborne
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

There's little doubt the Brothers Osborne will continue their reign. This is another example of the voters celebrating artistic accomplishment rather than commercial success. Florida Georgia Line, who are blurring the lines between pop and country more than ever (see: their record-breaking collaboration with pop newcomer Bebe Rexha), have no chance of ever reclaiming this title. The needle has moved on without them. Dan + Shay stand a slight chance, as does McGraw & Hill, who is coming off a duets album, The Rest of Our Life.

Should Win: Tim McGraw & Faith Hill

Will Win: Brothers Osborne

Vocal Group of the Year
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Old Dominion

Long-standing champions Little Big Town lost major traction on their latest record, The Breaker, which is also up for Album of the Year. The follow-up to "Better Man" called "Happy People" floundered in the bottom half of the chart, and "When Someone Stops Loving You" didn't fare much better. It is theirs to lose, however, but Midland is hot on their heels. If the voters are itching to crown someone new, it'll be those three amigos, whose debut LP On the Rocks remains one of 2017's strongest.

Should Win: Midland

Will Win: Little Big Town

New Male Vocalist of the Year
Kane Brown
Luke Combs
Devin Dawson
Russell Dickerson
Brett Young

This could go any number of ways. Brown has the viral success, and his first smash, "What Ifs" with another breakout named Lauren Alaina, is fresh on voters' minds. But the other four contenders could argue the same with their own collection of respective hits. It's a tough call but...

Should Win: Brett Young

Will Win: Brett Young

New Female Vocalist of the Year
Lauren Alaina
Danielle Bradbery
Carly Pearce

This is one of the stronger categories this year. Alaina and Pearce are the clear frontrunners with both commercial success (No. 1 hits under their belt in the most recent eligibility period) and critical hype under their proverbial belts. Pearce likely has stronger support, as evidenced by her follow-up single "Hide the Wine" appears to have legs as a real hit single. Regardless of your feelings for her and her work, you can't help but root for someone who has worked tirelessly to make a name for herself. We wouldn't be shocked to see Alaina take this one either; she made a masterful return with her long-awaited sophomore album, Road Less Traveled, brimming with punchy pop production with well worn, heart-torn lyrics.

Should Win: Lauren Alaina

Will Win: Carly Pearce

Related: Complete list of performers for the 53rd ACM Awards (2018)

New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year
High Valley
Runaway June

Midland has the buzz, the hype and several other nominations, including Single Record of the Year. Lanco could prove to be a valiant dark horse and come from the outside for the much-deserved win. While Runaway June is a breath of fresh air to country music, it is a bit premature to give them such a high honor...yet. But their time is coming.

Should Win: Midland

Will Win: Midland

Songwriter of the Year
Rhett Akins
Ashley Gorley
Hillary Lindsey
Shane McAnally
Josh Osborne

In a world when women are still undervalued and underappreciated, Lindsey has worked her way into the top tier of Music Row songwriting within the last decade or so. Over the eligibility period, she has numerous hit singles, including Carrie Underwood's "Dirty Laundry," Keith Urban's "Blue Ain't Your Color," Lady Antebellum's "You Look Good," Florida Georgia Line & Backstreet Boys' "God, Your Mama & Me" and Kelsea Ballerini's "Legends." She also has cuts on the recent Carly Pearce album. McAnally worked his talents on Old Dominion, Midland and Walker Hayes records, and you can't count him out. Atkins and Osborne have also shown up as prominent fixtures on countless records this year. Additionally, Gorley was awarded the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year last fall (for the fifth year running), so he will be a force to be reckoned with, too.

Should Win: Hillary Lindsey

Will Win: Ashley Gorley

Album of the Year
The Breaker – Little Big Town
California Sunrise – Jon Pardi
From A Room: Volume 1 – Chris Stapleton
Happy Endings – Old Dominion
Life Changes – Thomas Rhett

A rather unfortunate mixed bag, the Album of the year field will be awarded to the first half of Stapleton's excellent double album. "Broken Halos" is waxing hot, and while From a Room: Volume 1 is not as undeniably powerful or inescapable as 2015's Traveler, there's no avoiding the inevitable. Stapleton is the present and the future of mainstream country music. His consistent output displays his commitment to craft in spades. Pardi's latest only stands an outside chance of being the night's most shocking win.

Should Win: Chris Stapleton

Will Win: Chris Stapleton

Single Record of the Year
"Better Man" – Little Big Town
"Body Like a Back Road" – Sam Hunt
"Broken Halos" – Chris Stapleton
"Drinkin' Problem" – Midland
"I'll Name the Dogs" – Blake Shelton

If we're basically this strictly on chart performance, Hunt's blockbuster would win, regardless of feelings on lack of artistic merit. "I'll Name the Dogs" and "Drinkin' Problem" were sturdy hits with reliable hooks, and "Broken Halos" will forever be remembered as Stapleton's true "breakthrough" moment. But it's "Better Man" which strikes both commercial success and critical acceptance. There's very little wiggle room here for Little Big Town to lose.

Should Win: Little Big Town

Will Win: Little Big Town

Song of the Year
"Body Like a Back Road" – Sam Hunt (songwriters: Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne)
"Female" – Keith Urban (songwriters: Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally)
"Tin Man" – Miranda Lambert (songwriters: Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall)
"Whiskey and You" – Chris Stapleton (songwriters: Lee Thomas Miller, Chris Stapleton)

Forget there are only four nominees here when most other categories have five. With that said, Lambert's "Tin Man" was far and away the most honest and vulnerably-written song of the bunch. And voters love songs which not only tug at the heartstrings but snap them completely. Amidst the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, voters might be leaning to award Urban's "Female," which aims to honor women for changing the world with their spirits. On the other hand, the song has turned out to be rather polarizing online, which could ultimately diminish its chances.

Should Win: Miranda Lambert

Will Win: Miranda Lambert

Video of the Year
"Black" – Dierks Bentley
"It Ain't My Fault" – Brothers Osborne
"Legends" – Kelsea Ballerini
"Marry Me" – Thomas Rhett
"We Should Be Friends" – Miranda Lambert

The great thing about a few of these categories is there is some legitimately great music being made. As far as visuals are concerned, Ballerini's emotive clip elevates "Legends"  into the truly heartbreaking territory. Elsewhere, Lambert and Brothers Osborne take a more lighthearted, humorous tone to their respective hits, and Bentley offers a somber, cinematic sequence.

Should Win: Kelsea Ballerini

Will Win: Brothers Osborne

Vocal Event of the Year
"Craving You" – Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris
"Dear Hate" – Maren Morris featuring Vince Gill
"Funny (How Time Slips Away) – Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson
"The Fighter" – Keith Urban featuring Carrie Underwood
"What Ifs" – Kane Brown featuring Lauren Alaina

Voters often love honoring legends who have passed recently, which indicates Campbell and Nelson's collaboration could run away here. Of course, don't count out Morris who shows up with one of the year's biggest hits and another poignant reminder of humanity. On the sidelines, Brown and Alaina could pull a fast one and take the win, too, and that wouldn't be undeserving. "What Ifs" is one of 2017's biggest hits. It's gonna be a close call.

Should Win: Marne Morris & Vince Gill

Will Win: Kane Brown & Lauren Alaina