Dan DeLuca's picks: The Country Music Awards

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.


The Country Music Association awards on Wednesday (8 p.m., 6ABC) are the Grammys of country: That is, they're a showbiz production that by no means accurately rewards the best music released in a given year, but that are still the most prestigious of a glut of TV awards shows. Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will host.

Here are critic's picks from five of the featured categories.

Entertainer of the Year. Miranda Lambert. Her 2014 album, Platinum, was far better than the work of her competitors Eric Church, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, and Garth Brooks. Still, I bet it goes to Bryan, or to Brooks for sentimental reasons.

Female Vocalist. A strong group, with Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Carrie Underwood, and upstart Kelsea Ballerini. I'm picking Musgraves for her standout Pageant Material, and she might actually win. If there's justice, she'll also win album of the year.

Male Vocalist. I'm not crazy about any of these nominees. But look for Kentucky singer Chris Stapleton, on whom I'm not entirely sold as a songwriter, but who has a world-class country-soul voice.

Best New Artist. I'll go for Maddie & Tae, the duo who scored a hit with their clever bro-country corrective, "Girl in a Country Song." There's no way, though, that this one doesn't go to breakout star Sam Hunt, the former Alabama-Birmingham quarterback who's one of the headliners of next summer's just-announced Big Barrel Country Music Festival in Dover, Del.

Musical Event of the Year. Some good choices here, with Shelton and Ashley Monroe's "Lonely Tonight," and Lambert and Little Big Town's "Smokin' and Drinkin'." But what should and will win is Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's album, Django and Jimmie, which lets the country mainstream pretend it respects its own traditions, which it doesn't.