The 2018 ACM Awards are coming right up! The annual show is always the subject of some controversy both within the country music industry and outside it, as both insiders and fans debate the relative merits of the artists, nominations and voting process.

The Academy of Country Music's membership comprises industry professionals, and they submit one nomination each in the categories of Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Vocal Duo of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, New Male Vocalist of the Year, New Female Vocalist of the Year, New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year, Album of the Year, Single Record of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year.

The 20 artists who receive the most votes in each category then go before a review committee to ensure they meet all eligibility criteria. Those artists must also have received a minimum of two percent of the vote in their category in order to move on to another round.

After the nomination round ends, the process moves on to a second round in which members may cast up to two votes in each category. The five nominees who receive the most votes in each category then move on to the third ballot to determine the final three nominees. In the case of a tie, the additional nominees will be included on the final ballot.

In the third and final round of voting, members cast just one vote in each category. The nominee receiving the most votes in each category is the winner. In the case of a tie, all winners will receive an award.

Over the years, controversies have most often erupted in fan-voted categories.

According to the ACM's own voting criteria, the nomination and voting process is pretty straightforward, and the ballots are tabulated by an independent accounting firm. Over the years, controversies have most often erupted in fan-voted categories that included Entertainer of the Year and all of the New Artist awards.

The Entertainer of the Year category was ACM member-voted until 2008, when it morphed to include a fan vote. The award is "presented to the individual, duo or group who showed the most overall success in the country music industry during the prior calendar year ... The factors to be considered include, but are not limited to, success at radio, sales of pre-recorded music, success of music videos, vocal performances, live concert ticket sales, artistic merit, appearances on television, appearances in films, songwriting, success in digital media, and contributions to the country music industry." From 2008-2016, the winner was determined by a combination of the ACM's professional membership and fan voting, which took place online and via text.

That didn't sit particularly well with Kenny Chesney, who was the first to take home EOTY honors after those changes. It was his fourth win, tying Garth Brooks, and while he was grateful, he took the opportunity to express his concerns about the new voting structure in his backstage remarks.

“The Entertainer of the Year trophy is supposed to represent heart and passion and an amazing amount of sacrifice, commitment and focus. That’s the way Garth won it four times. That’s the way I won it. That’s the way [George] Strait won it … and Reba [McEntire] and Alabama all those years," he said (quote via

Chesney clarified that he was targeting neither the awards nor the fans. “But I don’t think it’s right that they picked the one award that means the most, that all the artists sacrifice the most for," he stated, adding that the decision changed the category “into a sweepstakes to see who can push people’s buttons the hardest on the internet. I don’t think that’s right, really."

“I think it’s a complete disrespect of the artist — what they’ve lowered us to, to get Entertainer of the Year. Because of that, it really diminishes the integrity of the music that we’re making and how much work goes into it," he added. "That’s what really matters. That’s what Entertainer of the Year really is. It’s not about flying somebody to some shows and giving free songs away — and giving this and that — and seeing how hard you can push people’s buttons on the internet. As much as I love the ACMs and what they’ve done for my life, that’s how I really feel about it. And I can say that because I won tonight.”

It really diminishes the integrity of the music that we’re making and how much work goes into it.

New Artist of the Year has often been another controversial category, especially in 2014, when Justin Moore was nominated and eventually won despite the fact that he didn't meet the stated criteria for the category. That criteria states, "This award is presented to an outstanding male vocalist, female vocalist, vocal duo or vocal group in the country music industry who gains either initial fame or significantly greater recognition, through efforts surrounding the promotion of a debut or sophomore album, during the prior calendar year ... The artist(s) must have success in digital media; in addition to having charted a single record in the Top 40 on Billboard’s Country Airplay (BDS) or Country Aircheck (Mediabase) country charts; and/or selling 100,000 album units reflected in Nielsen SoundScan during the eligibility period."

The rules go on to state, "Any artist(s) that previously served (or currently serving) as lead vocalists for, or otherwise fronted duos or groups that have sold 500,000 copies of previously released albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan, are not eligible for this category."

Moore was nominated after the release of his third album, Off the Beaten Path, and after his self-titled 2009 debut album sold more than 500,000 units and spawned four Top 40 singles, including the No. 1 hit, "Small Town USA."

ACM CEO Bob Romeo defended the nomination, saying, “This decision is in line with our criteria, and the board’s right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success. We have to remember that Justin is a new face to mainstream music fans, media and the like."

When Moore went on to win the award, it only fueled charges that the ACMs are fixed by industry power brokers who swap votes, vote in blocks and otherwise game the system in order to see certain artists win.

"The whole fan-voted element to the ACM Awards seems to be more about creating attention for the awards and generating traffic for ACM’s web properties," Saving Country Music wrote in a piece titled, 'Why the Best Fan Vote for the ACMs Is No Vote at All.'

"The question country music fans, the industry and the ACMs themselves should be asking is what will happen first: more transparency and stronger adherence to the rules by the ACM brass, or a lowering of the integrity of the awards to a point where their ultimate relevancy comes into question longterm?"

In 2016 the ACM bowed to criticism that claimed the system was too easily rigged, and as it stands, only industry members are allowed to vote on the ACM Awards.

There are additional categories that are voted on by the ACM membership that are not particularly controversial, since they do not generate anywhere near the attention/exposure due to the fact that they are not presented during the annual televised broadcast.

The annual show is always the subject of some controversy both within the country music industry and outside it.

Those include the industry awards, for which a professional panel submits five nominees for the third and final ballot, with the winner determined by the largest number of votes. That's the same process as the studio recording ballot, which only ACM members in the Artist-Entertainer/Musician-Bandleader-Instrumentalist category and the Producer-Engineer-Studio Manager subcategory vote on. Additionally, Songwriter of the Year is decided by a vote from only those members classified in the categories of Artist-Entertainer/Musician-Bandleader-Instrumentalist, Composer, Music Publisher/PRO, Record Company, and the Producer-Engineer-Studio Manager subcategory.

The 2018 ACM Awards are set for April 15, 2018. They will broadcast live on CBS from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, with Reba McEntire returning to host the ceremony.

What do you think of the ACM Awards nomination and voting process? Is it fair? Sound off in the comments section below.

Remember: The best way to watch the ACM Awards is on TV, with ToC on your phone.

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