November 10th, 2009
11:45 AM ET

Backstage pass at the CMAs - Rehearsals

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Nashville rolled out the welcome mat with a big twang, as Brooks and Dunn turned up their amps for a rockin' rendition of their latest hit, "Honky Tonk Stomp."

The superstar country duo - who call it quits after a farewell tour in 2010 - were deep in rehearsals at the Sommet Center for Wednesday night's "43rd Annual CMA Awards."

Among those boogieing down from the audience - Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush from Sugarland, the pair who finally ended B & D's 14-year winning streak as CMA "Duo of the Year." It'll be a showdown between Sugarland and Brooks and Dunn once again, with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn the sentimental favorites among some of the voters.

"If they come back for the reunion tour next year, there will be some you-know-what to pay," teased Nettles. Bush added, "If they come back as Dunn and Brooks - it's over! We're taking the gloves off!," he laughed.

As Jason Aldean stepped into the spotlight to rehearse his recent number one single, "Big Green Tractor," Darius Rucker admired his performance from the back of the room. "Man, listen to his voice!," he marveled. "He sounds as good live as he does on the record!"

Rucker is up for two awards - "Best New Artist" and "Male Vocalist of the Year."

We spoke backstage after last year's ceremony, just as the Hootie and the Blowfish frontman was reinventing himself as a solo country artist. Barack Obama had just been elected President of the United States, and Rucker was reflecting on how an African-American could become of the Leader of the Free World, as well as a country singer. "Just shows how far we've come," he said. "We're prime examples of how you can be whatever you want to be in this country."

Conversation turned toward the hotly-contested category of "Entertainer of the Year" - where Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait and Keith Urban will square off against 19-year-old country-pop sensation Taylor Swift. "It's up for grabs, but I think it could be Taylor's year," predicted Rucker. "She's just so big right now. I think she's transcending country music, and she'll probably take it." Aldean concurred when he got off the stage. "If you looks at numbers - nobody's had a bigger year than her. I don't know how you can discredit that," he said.

In a press release yesterday, the Country Music Association announced that Swift will be the opening performer on Wednesday's telecast. With any luck, she'll also be closing the night with a win for "Entertainer of the Year."

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soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Debra R

    The best show in the country was Keith Urban and Taylor Swift. And I loved the Little Big Town shows too.

    November 11, 2009 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. Amy

    Re: claims that Taylor Swift has been made popular only by teenagers–I disagree! I went to her recent concert with my daughter and loved it! She sang completely in tune and did an amazing job. I did not expect to love the concert but I did. And I haven't been a teenager for a very long time. People are so busy trying to claim she's not country enough (or ______ enough, you fill in the blank), that they're missing the obvious–she is an amazingly talented young woman who deserves a lot of credit for all of her hard work and talent! Go Taylor!

    November 10, 2009 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wendi

    I, too, am holding out for Jamey Johnson to be included in the awards in a few years. By far the best voice since George Strait.

    November 10, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sandra

    Brad is MY entertainer of the year, this year and all years. He puts so much into his shows, they are so much fun and hey....the guy got his 11th CONSECUTIVE single for Welcome to the Future, not only that he is 100% country!

    November 10, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Emily

    I just can't wait for the Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews duet. I'm not a huge country fan, but I'm a huge DMB fan, and their duet "I'm Alive" is one of the best songs I've heard in a while.

    November 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. michelle

    I hope Brad wins the EOTY trophy because he hasn't won it and i also agree with Taylor isn't the best singer and can write but not a good singer and of Brad doesn't win EOTY i hope its someone who haven't won it like Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney (again) 🙂 or i hope George strait wins EOTY

    November 10, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ellorysgirl

    J. Johnson needs to shave off that scraggly, ugly beard. It's disgusting.

    November 10, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Agreed

    I agree Taylor should get it. She should get it now, not later just because she is young. Anything can happen to her, we all know tomorrow isn't promised. She deserves it today so she should get it today. However, I agree that she can't sing a lick. She is totally off key all the time, except when she is on the radio – where we hear her voice mixed properly. She is a good song-writer and a good representative and she is adorable and seems to be a nice person. She deserves entertainer of the year, and her manager should throw in some voice lessons as well.

    November 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Christine

    I hope Brad wins...I agree with others Taylor is not the best singer. Good song writer, but not so good singer.

    November 10, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Renee

    WOW–really–Taylor as Entertainer of the Year–I don't think so! She is appealing to a young audience who in no way is a country audience! This award should be for the COUNTRY ARTIST that is Entertainer of the Year

    November 10, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mrose61

    What is the criteria for Entertainer of the Year? Who nominates and votes the CMA's? I SO appreciate how diverse "country music" has become in recent years. It is certainly not a rigid, one-dimensional format. I love the traditional artists like George Strait, the new groups like Lady Antebellum and Sugarland, and the amazing crop of singer-songwriters like Zac Brown, Jason Aldean, etc. While I agree Taylor Swift lacks vocally, I think she brings the youth-factor to Country and she is an immensely talented song writer who pens spot-on stories that are relateable to listeners of all ages.

    November 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Melissa

    Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, or George Strait, in that order. I agree, Taylor Swift can't carry a tune........leave her to the song writing!

    November 10, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Courtney

    Taylor Swift is a prodigy at her age. Many country artists have crossed over and done pop. Look at even someone like Dolly Parton. Pop music yelled when Taylor Swift won a VMA and now country fans are yelling about the potential of her winning Entertainer of the Year? Frankly, I think she deserves it and no, not all of her fans are teenagers that have pushed her to the top, but I've got to credit her with attracting more teenagers to country music that may not have wanted to listen to it before.

    November 10, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cindy

    I can't wait to see Vince Gill & Chris Daughtry together!

    November 10, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Malissa

    I think that George Strait should win Entertainer of the Year. This man has been singing for many years and has done nothing but excel with each of his songs/albums. Each album keeps getting better and he is not afraid to experiment with new techniques either. He is also a great performer and is a true COUNTRY entertainer!!

    November 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  16. JB

    I hope the Dixie Chicks win something!!

    November 10, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Phyl

    Chances are the CMAs won't want to ruffle the feathers of the overrated Carrie Underwood by giving Entertainer of the Year to another female. It will probably be Brad Paisley. As far as Taylor Swift goes, I agree she can write better then sing & as far as sweet & innocent, she wasn't too much that at her final performance. In fact was a bit too risque for the 10-13 year olds. However, I agree, she'll probably be around long after Britney waanbe Miley is gone.

    November 10, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  18. pm

    It needs to be George Strait. He constantly sells out each year and look at his hits! He is all country.

    November 10, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Sonja

    Vince Gill is the BEST EVER!

    November 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Steve

    If you saw last week's SNL, there's your entertainer of the year,
    even if she missed a few notes on Oprah and DWTS.

    November 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  21. igloo050

    I agree with Sandy. Taylor Swift couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. If it weren't for the teen rage about Taylor she would never have gotten so far. Her music all sounds the same. It is time for TOBY KEITH! He is awesome and down-to-earth, like country music is supposed to be.

    November 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Brad

    Can't wait to see Jamey Johnson....another year or so and he will be up for male vocalist of the year. Best male voice by a mile.....

    November 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Sharon

    I want Kenny to win again. He is far better than Taylor, his concerts are the best. Anyone that would stand and sing in the rain for 50 minutes and then come back a week later to finish the concert. (Free of charge) Should be Entertainer of Year. Good Luck Kenny, I'm pulling for you . Your the best

    November 10, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Hollie

    Not buying what Taylor Swift is selling! She is so young, why give her Entertainer of the year now? She will be around for a long time, she has plenty of time to win it. Not that into her, did you see her on SNL?? You wouldn't even know she was a "country artist".

    November 10, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Julie



    November 10, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Linda

    Taylor WILL & SHOULD win. And please--if there's a teenager out there that can't sing but gets WAY too much coverage for it, it's Miley Cyrus. At least Taylor is humble, always seems grateful for what she has won in the past, and she seems to have moral values. Three things Miley doesn't seem to have. Taylor will be around LONG after people start saying "what ever happened to that Cyrus girl?"

    November 10, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  27. manda


    November 10, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Debra R

    Kimberly: Loved Charlie Pride too!

    November 10, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Ginny

    While I agree that Taylor has been very successful, sings "decent", and has a mass teenage following...I will be curious to see how she fairs as she gets older. In regards to talent, her writing skills definitely outweigh her singing skills. Many agree to that. I have trouble seeing her singing improve very much. She is definitely not as good LIVE.

    November 10, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Jojo

    I think it will be a huge upset if anyone other then Taylor Swift takes Entertainer of the Year. She's the highest selling living artist this year in any genre of music, only surpassed by Michael Jackson. Her concerts have been selling out in less than 7 minutes, some in less than 2 minutes. She's honest, and humble, and truly does not get how great she is. She's the positive influence for kids today, and she shows no signs of changing that "clean" image of hers. In fact, she chooses to embrace it!

    If anyone has a shot and stealing the award from Taylor Swift Wednesday night it would be Brad Paisley who has definitely been riding high...let's just not compare his heights to those of Taylor's...she's definitely riding the highest this year!!

    November 10, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Beverly Kelly

    Since it is the CMA's, I think it should go to a "country" entertainer like George Strait or Brad Paisley.

    November 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Kimberly

    Yes Darius you have come did a man named Charlie Pride back in the 70's. Why don't you check your facts before you think you're breaking ground as a best selling African-American in country music.

    November 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Sandy

    Teenagers have put Taylor over the top and I believe most of them are not listening to other country music. She is cute and a good song writer, but she can't carry a tune in a bucket. JMO

    November 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  34. CC

    I think the boys can order a round and toast to the lady because nobody else had a year like her.....

    November 10, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Kathy

    I am hoping Brad Paisley, Keith Urban or George Strait win Entertainer of the year.. NOT Taylor Swift, Iam sooo over her.

    November 10, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Sandy

    I too hope Keith wins.

    November 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Debra R

    I think Keith should take entertainer of the year...but any of them are OK.

    November 10, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |

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