CMAs recap: Meet Chris Stapleton, your (and everyone's) new favorite country star
Scan through the past 25 years of Male Vocalist of the Year winners at the Country Music Association Awards, and it reads like a who’s who of Nashville’s A-list: Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, George Strait and Vince Gill.
As of Wednesday night, you can add to that list Chris Stapleton.
Yes, Chris Stapleton, the bedraggled man-bear who dominated Wednesday’s CMAs by winning not only Male Vocalist of the Year, but also New Artist of the Year and Album of the Year – not to mention earning a standing ovation for a soulful and stunning duet with Justin Timberlake.
Stapleton isn’t exactly an unknown in Nashville – he was a member of acclaimed bluegrass outfit the SteelDrivers, and has written numerous huge hits for other singers, including Luke Bryan’s Drink a Beer, Josh Turner’s Your Man and Kenny Chesney’s Never Wanted Nothing More. He even once wrote a song for Adele.
Still, the fact that the shaggy Kentuckian managed to manhandle the CMAs in such staggering fashion – upsetting huge favorites like Shelton, Eric Church and Sam Hunt along the way – was an absolute shock. His May album Traveller was critically acclaimed, but not exactly a huge hit. If you can name more than one single from it, you practically qualify as a superfan.
Safe to say, for much of America, Wednesday’s show was Stapleton’s official coming-out party. Traveller is about to charge back up the charts, find many new fans outside Nashville, and perhaps rack up a few Grammy nods. In other words, you can officially book your latecomer's ticket on the Chris Stapleton bandwagon right about … now.
So yeah, all across country nation on Thursday, people will be talking about Church’s surprise album Mr. Misunderstood, Kacey Musgraves’ rave-ready romper and William Shatner as a Storm Trooper. And yeah, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Girl Crush won a few trophies, too.
But Stapleton’s performance and astonishing trophy sweep will be the thing people remember from this year’s CMAs.
During his Male Vocalist of the Year acceptance speech, he tearfully thanked the other A-listers in the room for singing his songs and giving him a career.
After the display he put on Wednesday, Stapleton's gonna be just fine on his own.
-- Jay Cridlin