CMAs have plenty of pop Awards: More crossover performances this year means the country music awards show has better prospects of attracting a larger audience.

September 23, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

As with any TV show, the annual CMA Awards broadcast aims to attract the broadest audience possible.

And, as Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, admits, sometimes the CMA would try to lure more viewers by adding a few pop stars to the mix.

"Some of the things we've done on the show over the years involving artists from other genres have been done with the idea that it will help extend interest and draw additional viewers," he says. "Like that performance with Sting and Toby Keith last year on the show."

Benson hastens to add that the CMA doesn't try to create artificial situations just to coax some rock star onto the show. "We haven't contrived any of these things," he says. "We've picked up something the industry has already done, like Don Henley singing with Trisha Yearwood on her record, or Lionel Richie with Kenny Rogers. Over the years, we've tried to see if there's something going on where we can pull in somebody from the pop music world."

This year, though, the CMA won't have to pull any singers in from the pop world. They've got pop stars already.

"Between the music that's been in the movies, and the hits of Shania [Twain] and LeAnn [Rimes], we've had a number of artists on the pop charts already," says Benson. "So we've got pop artists on our show who are also country artists."

Right now, in fact, Twain -- whose "Come On Over" is up for Album of the Year -- has a single in the Billboard Top 10. Meanwhile, Faith Hill's "This Kiss" -- which is up for Single of the Year -- is at No. 13 and climbing.

Benson is justifiably proud of country music's pop success. "Apart from 'Achy Breaky Heart,' by Billy Ray Cyrus, you'd probably have to go back to the 'Urban Cowboy' days to find as many as two or more country music singles on the pop charts at the same time," he says.

This year's CMA ballot isn't completely crossover-oriented. Although Hill is up for four awards (including Female Vocalist of the Year), Twain is only up for one, and LeAnn Rimes wasn't nominated at all.

The lack of crossover nods may be partly because the slate is so male-dominated this year. All five nominees for Entertainer of the Year -- Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw and George Strait -- are male, as is everyone in the Musician of the Year category.

In fact, apart from Female Vocalist of the Year, the only categories in which women have a numerical edge are Single of the Year (in which George Strait and Steve Wariner compete against Martina McBride, Hill and Patty Loveless) and Video of the Year (where Strait is the only nominee who doesn't normally wear a skirt).

As in years past, the broadcast (which airs live from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. on CBS, WJZ, Channel 13) on CBS will have Vince Gill as its host, and the emphasis will be more on music than on award-giving.

"We only have 12 categories," says Benson. "So we have plenty of room to give people a lot of entertainment."

Celebrate country

What: "The 32nd Annual CMA Awards"

When: Tonight at 8

Where: CBS (WJZ, Channel 13)

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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