The 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards are tonight in Las Vegas.  Despite the strange omission of some superstars (Keith Urban, anyone??), the list of nominees is a virtual Who's Who in the business.  So, Dave Spencer and I decided that we would study the list of nominees and try to pick the winners.  Now, we admit . . . it would probably have been easier to pick the winning numbers in the Mega Millions jackpot, but, like Pat Benatar, we're going to hit it with our best shots.  And, the nominees are . . .

Entertainer of the Year
Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

CHAD:  Okay, look.  I'm just as tired as everyone else of Taylor Swift winning every single trophy at every single awards show.  It is working my nerves like nails on a chalkboard or Nicki Minaj.  But, as much as I want to see Blake Shelton win and as much as he truly deserves this year's Entertainer of the Year honor, I think Taylor is going to win it AGAIN.  The ACM's made a fatal mistake a couple of years back when it made this honor FAN voted.  (Now, it's basically a glorified People's Choice Award.  I'm surprised Tom Selleck or Zac Efron isn't nominated!)  Taylor Swift fans LIVE on the Internet and on their Smart Phones.  They drive the voting and that's what she will win. (Though I'm still holding out for a miracle.)

DAVE: I second that emotion. Home skillet needs variety. He's not getting it this year. If radio and industry folk were making the call here, Blake wins in a walk. But, as Chad said, Taylor's fans live in a world not much bigger than your average smart phone, Ipad, or notebook. They WANT Taylor on that wall! They NEED Taylor on that wall. And, Sunday night, they'll SEE Taylor on that wall!

Male Vocalist of the Year
Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Chris Young

CHAD:  I tell you what.  You know country music had a strong year when Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney are nominated and have no chance of winning.  Chris Young's year was full of #1's.  In fact, I think his streak is now five in a row.  But Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean had MONSTER years.  I think Blake is going to win on the strength of NBC's The Voice and his growing popularity as country music's wise-ass.  But, for me, Jason Aldean deserves this award.  "Don't You Wanna Stay," "Dirt Road Anthem," "Tattoos on this Town," and "Fly Over States" are all hard-hitting anthems and he sings each and every one with passion and conviction.  When you put those songs up against "Honey Bee" and "God Gave Me You" . . . they just run away with the crown.

DAVE: Jason will win this at some point. My suggestion: talk to NBC. Blake has a hit series and, actually, a higher profile than most anyone else you'll see on the show tomorrow night. PLUS, he's a co-host. Yes, Jason's songs packed more punch in 2011, but Blake OWNS the media. And he will soon OWN a Male Vocalist trophy.

Female Vocalist of the Year
Sara Evans
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

CHAD:  In my mind, there is no question here.  This is Miranda's trophy to take home and put above the fireplace next to the deer head.  While Taylor Swift may be the music industry's darling, Miranda Lambert is the true country singer here.  Underwood didn't really do much last year because she was between albums.  Sara Evans had a big #1 hit with "A Little Bit Stronger," but I still think there is a huge group of country music fans, critics, and beagles with hyper-sensitive ears who don't think she can really sing.  Martina McBride has pretty much achieved legend status at this point and it was nice to see her have hits again, but I don't think her showing in the last year is strong enough to bring home the bacon.  Miranda, congratulations!  She's gonna bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan.

DAVE: That Martina is still getting nominated is to her credit. Let's face it, the country music industry isn't as kind as it could be to its female stars who've been working longer than a decade. But one huge comeback hit--albeit a recent one--is not enough to overcome her competition. Speaking of comebacks, welcome back to the top of the charts Sara Evans. Unfortunately, that one hit is nearly a year old. I agree with Chad that Carrie doesn't have enough material from the past 12 months to be seriously considered. And Taylor will win a much bigger award. This one belongs to Miranda. Nothing but formalities, now.

Vocal Duo of the Year
Love and Theft
Montgomery Gentry
Steel Magnolia
Thompson Square

CHAD:  Ya'll know I love me some Sugarland.  And I think they may win this award on the strength of their name alone.  However, if you ask me, I think Thompson Square deserves to win.  Though they are still managing to sell crap loads of concert tickets, Sugarland has pretty much stopped having country hits.  Montgomery Gentry has been around forever and continues to milk the same formula they've used for years.  I'm a fan, but there's nothing new or attention-getting with them anymore to separate them from the pack.  Steel Magnolia is too tabloid and "on-again, off-again."   And, I'm not sure anyone really cares one way or another anyway.  But, in 2011, there was a duo that truly stepped up to the plate.  Thompson Square filled Sugarland's chart void beautifully with "Are You Gonnna Kiss Me or Not" and "I Got You."  I think they deserve the trophy, but am not convinced they are going to get it.

DAVE: Wow, just when I thought the Duo category was getting stronger, I take one look at this collection and begin to wonder. Granted, it's still stronger than when the Sweethearts of the Rodeo were still being nominated 10 years after they'd forgotten each other's names. But none of the acts here screams "HUGE YEAR" to me. Sugarland hasn't done enough. Love and Theft only have one top ten hit to their credit and that was in 2009, I think. And Steel Magnolia is on indefinite leave. Montgomery Gentry does have the biggest current hit of any of them, but I think Thompson Square's still fresh "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" coupled with a top ten follow-up in "I Got You" will carry the day.

Vocal Group of the Year
The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Rascal Flatts
Zac Brown Band

CHAD:  Boy!  Forget the early 80's and the heyday of Alabama,THESE are the "glory days" for country music groups!  This category is country STRONG!!  The only group who doesn't have a chance to win is the Eli Young Band.  Though they had a huge number one with "Crazy Girl" their resume just fails to compare in a field with these other juggernauts.  I have a hunch Lady Antebellum is going to win, though to be honest with you, they are my least favorite in this batch.  For me, the trio has settled into a routine and predictable pattern with their songwriting and recording.  I am personally pulling for the Zac Brown Band.  These guys churn out number one hit after number one hit (including last year's GLORIOUS  "Colder Weather") and every single one sounds different.  They are masters of fusion.  Their hits blend country with pop, reggae, rock, and, yes, even disco!  I'm a huge fan and am hoping they pull off their first win in this category!

DAVE: AMEN! This category is built for the duration. The hottest group of the last decade, Rascal Flatts, has no shot. How about that? The Eli Young Band had an enormous hit with "Crazy Girl" but it's way too early for these guys, even though I sense they are on the right track with the follow-up "Even If It Breaks Your Heart." The Band Perry is red hot and will win this award one day. That day, however, isn't April 1st, 2012. We're down to the incredibly stiff competition between the Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum. It would make my day if Zac and company were to pull this off. They're 10 singles into their chart career and the first nine all hit #1--"No Hurry" is headed there. Plus, no two sound the same. That seems nearly impossible in this day and age. I hope they win. They deserve it. But this post isn't about hopes and dreams. It's about reality. And I believe the awards group love affair with super-trio Lady Antebellum will continue.

Album of the Year (Award to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company)

Chief – Eric Church (EMI-Nashville)
Four The Record – Miranda Lambert (RCA)
Hemingway’s Whiskey – Kenny Chesney (BNA)
My Kinda Party – Jason Aldean (Broken Bow Records)
Own The Night – Lady Antebellum (Capitol Records Nashville)

CHAD:  Again, tough category!  Miranda has won this trophy with her last two releases and there is no reason to think she won't win it again.  Four The Record is loaded up with classic country twang, lyrics and themes.  But the real hit maker in this group is My Kinda Party by Jason Aldean.  This guy knows how to pick songs for a record.  The fact that "Fly Over States" is the 5th single from it tells you everything you need to know.  On any other album in the world, that song would have been the lead off single.  But, on My Kinda Party, which is loaded with #1 hits, it was relegated to the five spot.  I'm not sure Jason will win, but, man, this CD is MY kinda party!

DAVE: All five of these albums are critical as well as commercial successes. Jason, Kenny, and Lady A all have hit-laden collections. Eric and Miranda have relatively new offerings that have, nonetheless, already yielded two big hits apiece. To be quite honest, if any of these albums wins, I won't be surprised. So, I'll go with a gut instinct that's reminding me that the Academy has a way of playing favorites in certain categories. Since Miranda has won this award twice before, I say she'll pick up number THREE with "FOUR the Record."

Single Record of the Year (Award to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company)

Crazy Girl – Eli Young Band (Republic Nashville)
Don’t You Wanna Stay – Jason Aldean With Kelly Clarkson (Broken Bow Records)
Red Solo Cup – Toby Keith (Show Dog-Universal Music)
Tomorrow – Chris Young (RCA)
You And Tequila – Kenny Chesney Featuring Grace Potter (BNA)

CHAD:  While I am pulling for my jam, "Don't You Wanna Stay," to win, something in my gut tells me it's just been out too long.  Remember, Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson debuted this song during the CMA's in 2010.  Yep!  2010.  I think voters may just be tired of it at this point.  So, I think this is a two-horse race between "You & Tequila" and "Red Solo Cup."  I know a lot of folks cringed when Toby snagged this nomination, but think about it.  This song was a joke . . . and a huge risk.  It was never meant to be a single, but, thanks to an Internet frenzy and a riotous video, the label released the song to radio (almost by the force of popular demand).  This is the single that truly defied all the odds.  Because of that, I think it may pull off a huge upset and be the shock of the night.

DAVE: I am so tempted to pick "Red Solo Cup" because it flies in the face of what we've come to expect from this industry--safety. The song irritates me like starched blue jeans. And I'm TTTHHHHIIIISSS close to saying it will win. I just can't help but remember that Toby is kind of an outlier when it comes to awards. He's never hesitated to express his disinterest in any of them. That may cause some to hold back from checking off his name. But, when I look at the list, I see Toby's strongest competition being "Don't You Wanna Stay" by Jason and Kelly. And we all first heard that song way back in November of 2010. So, despite my doubts, I can't help but think that the song that generated more reaction than anything I've seen since "Achy Breaky Heart" will win the big prize. I just wonder if Toby will be there to accept it.

The 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards air live from Las Vegas at 7pm CST, Sunday night, on CBS.