What truly kicks of awards-show season? The Emmys, back in September? The full run probably begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow night on ABC -- with the Country Music Association awards ...
By MIKE HUGHES
The Country Music Association awards are back, blending the old and new.
The usual faces will be there. Kenny Chesney has seven nominations, George Strait has five; Jennifer Nettles has five with Sugarland and one alone.
Then there are first-timers.
''It's awesome,'' James Otto says. ''You kind of dream about what it would be like to be nominated.''
He knew the general idea. He's been in the audience, watching friends -- Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson -- on stage.
Hillary Scott (of first-time nominee Lady Antebellum) also knows the turf. She grew up in Nashville and went to the ceremony with her mom, singer Linda Davis.
''I think I was 8 or 9 at the time,'' Scott says. ''She was getting up to go on stage. She had a short dress; I remember pulling it down, so it wasn't too short.''
Now Scott will be on stage. Lady Antebellum is scheduled to sing ''Love Don't Live Here Anymore,'' which reached No. 3 on Billboard's country chart. ''I'll make sure my own dress isn't too short,'' she says.
She'll also be on stage if Lady Antebellum wins for ''new artist of the year,'' but that's a tough category. Also nominated are Otto, Rodney Atkins, Jason Aldean and Kellie Pickler.
''Rodney Atkins has had four No. 1 hits,'' says Otto, who's had one (''Just Got Started Lovin' You'') himself. ''That's gonna be tough to win.''
Lady Antebellum has a second nomination as ''vocal group of the year,'' but Scott has no expectations. ''I think we have fifth place nailed down in that one,'' she says.
Her group faces Rascal Flatts, plus Little Big Town, Emerson Drive ... and The Eagles.
Yes, the same Eagles that won their first Grammy in 1975, more than a decade before Scott was born. This is imposing company.
''Especially for Dave [Haywood],'' Scott says. ''The Eagles were the first concert he went to when he was 10 years old.''
Haywood and Charles Kelley grew up in Augusta, Ga. Scott says she discovered Kelley on MySpace, then saw him one night at a Nashville club.
She told him she was a fan. ''He was very shocked,'' Scott says. ''He had moved to Nashville a couple weeks earlier and didn't think anyone knew him.''
Soon, they were writing and singing with Haywood. They had two key advantages:
• A great place to practice. Charles' brother, pop star Josh Kelley, was on tour, so they borrowed his Nashville house. ''I don't think he knew how much we'd borrowed it,'' Scott says.
• A mentor. Victoria Shaw, a top songwriter, was impressed when she saw Scott singing with her mom at 17; she became one of the producers of the Lady Antebellum album.
Such contacts are crucial, Otto knows. At a songwriters' night, John Rich invited him to a weekly music night.
That became the Muzik Mafia, with Big & Rich, Wilson, Cowboy Troy, Otto and more.
''We all had this love of music,'' Otto says. ''We wanted music that appeals to us and not just what was on the radio.''
He's been obsessed with music, despite expectations.
As the son of a drill sergeant, Otto moved a lot. He got noticed for his size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds in high school, 260 now) and football (offensive and defensive tackle). Then, in the midst of his junior year, he quit the team.
''It was an extremely unpopular move,'' Otto says. ''I was the biggest guy in school. ... Sports are great and I love to watch them, but I really wanted to focus on music.''
''He's a massive guy,'' Rich says. ''I dubbed him the biggest voice in country music. In my view, there's no one out there who can match him.''
There are, however, some who could top him for ''new artist of the year.'' It's a tough year, a tough category.
Gannett News Service