NASHVILLE, Tenn. - After a decade toiling away at the microphone without much recognition, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton are breaking through in a big way.
Two of country's leading men nabbed their first Country Music Association Awards entertainer of the year nominations Tuesday, upsetting recent trends and leading a popular pack with five nominations apiece. They join previous entertainer winners Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban in the CMA's most prestigious category. Paisley and Swift also are up for five awards.
"To be honest, I secretly hoped that I'd get this nomination one day, but I never thought I actually would," Shelton said in a statement. "After 10 years of watching my friends receive this incredible honor, I got pretty used to being a cheerleader for them, ya know?"
He began receiving more nominations last year, winning two awards at the 2010 CMAs. But his move into television as a coach on NBC's "The Voice," an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry and the success of his single "Honey Bee" - not to mention his marriage to Miranda Lambert - has helped bring him to the forefront of country music.
Like Shelton, Aldean has been slowly gaining awards show attention the last few years after hitting the trifecta of arena tours, platinum albums and radio airplay. But his previous nominations pale compared to the ones he earned Tuesday morning. Along with entertainer of the year, he took nominations in three coveted categories - album of the year for "My Kinda Party," single of the year for "Don't You Wanna Stay," featuring Kelly Clarkson, and male vocalist of the year.
"That's kind of the cool thing about this whole deal for us," Aldean said in a phone interview. "A lot of this stuff is first-time stuff for us. I think the general consensus whenever we get nominations, especially the big ones, is that's pretty special. Not only for me but my whole camp, for everyone involved. We're all kind of experiencing this stuff for the first time, so I think everybody's genuinely excited and sometimes surprised. It's a good feeling to know when you've been working all this time and people are taking notice."
The Band Perry and Jake Owen made the initial announcement of five categories Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America." Jerrod Niemann and two-time nominee Thompson Square announced the remainder of the nominees later at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Zac Brown Band and The Band Perry were next with four nominations apiece. Kenny Chesney was nominated for three awards, including male vocalist of the year, but country music's top touring draw was left out of an entertainer of the year category he won four straight times before essentially taking a year off.
Swift, who won entertainer of the year in 2009, is also up for female vocalist of the year with Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Lambert, who won the honor last year on her 27th birthday.
Lambert's husband, Shelton, will defend his male vocalist of the year award this year against Paisley, Urban, Aldean and Chesney.
The Band Perry will compete with Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band and Little Big Town in the vocal group category. And the sibling trio is nominated with Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Thompson Square and Chris Young in the new artist of the year category.
Coveted album of the year nominations went to Shelton for "All About Tonight," Aldean for "My Kinda Party," Swift's "Speak Now," Paisley's "This is Country Music" and "You Get What You Give" by Zac Brown Band.
Paisley and Carrie Underwood will host the award show for a fourth time live Nov. 9 from Nashville on ABC.
"I definitely think over the last couple of years you've seen some artists get in there that aren't the typical ones you're used to seeing in there," Aldean said. "That kind of tends to happen every few years. It seems like over the last couple of years you're starting to see some of that. But it's still a little surprising."