Stapleton, Church to take stage, vie for top awards at CMAs

FILE - Eric Church performs at the 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on Friday April 16, 2021 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Church is one of the top nominees and will also perform at the CMA Awards, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chris Stapleton and Eric Church are the top nominees, Luke Combs could be in for a big night, and all three will take the stage to perform Wednesday at the CMA Awards.

Stapleton and Church will be going toe-to-toe all night at the ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, with nominations in the same five categories, including entertainer of the year, male vocalist of the year, and album of the year.

Combs could be named male vocalist of the year for the third straight time, could take song of the year for “Forever after All,” and could win entertainer of the year for the first time.

The 55th annual CMA Awards, telecast on ABC and hosted by Luke Bryan, will represent a return to normal for the show. It’s back in front of an audience at its usual home, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, after last year’s ceremony was held at a crowd-free Music City Center because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, the most nominated female artist in CMAs history, are also both up for entertainer of the year. Either would be the first woman to win the award since Taylor Swift in 2011.

In a year when the major categories are dominated by male nominees, Gabby Barrett is the night’s most nominated woman with four nods, including female artist of the year, new artist and single and song of the year for her hit “The Good Ones.”

Underwood and Jason Aldean will headline a series of all-star collaborations as they perform their current hit “If I Didn’t Love You.” Kane Brown and Chris Young will sing their duet “Famous Friends,” which is nominated in three categories.

Other performers include the Brothers Osborne, Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde, and Mickey Guyton with Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards.

Morgan Wallen, who was caught earlier this year yelling a racial slur, is disqualified from many major awards and won’t be in attendance, but could still end up with one of the night’s biggest prizes after an album-of-the-year nomination for “Dangerous: The Double Album,” which was among the year’s best selling records.

The CMA Board of Directors said that Wallen, who in 2020 won new artist of the year, would not be eligible for awards that honor the individual, only those that honor the work.