Although we fully expect the 44th annual CMA Awards to be a night of surprises, The Boot has some solid predictions for Wednesday night's broadcast. From a veteran getting overdue recognition to a dark horse winner, here's who we think will take home that sparkling glass trophy in some of the night's top categories. (We also fully expect for you to disagree with us on a lot of these, so be sure to leave your comments below, and cast your votes in our CMA poll here.)

Kurt Markus

Entertainer of the Year: In a category with several newcomers that may have surprised some people, there is an artist whose time has come. Brad Paisley has been building towards this moment for the last few years, and we believe strongly that 2010 will be the 'Year of the Brad.' He has had constant sell-out concerts on his H20 World tour, which has now reached over 750,000 fans. He showed the world beyond Music City the devastation of the Grand Ole Opry House in the aftermath of Nashville's May flood, and then the triumph of its return in October. Brad played to a capacity crowd of 35,000 with a free show as part of the Concerts for the Coast series to help re-build tourism in the Gulf Coast area after the BP oil spill. He will release his first book, 'The Diary of a Player,' next May. He's also just released a long-overdue greatest hits compilation, 'Hits Alive,' which includes live recordings of some of his most beloved hits.

What else can we say? The three-time CMA host with the most is our Entertainer of the Year. It's time.

But there's a slight possibility ... We really do think that Brad has it in the bag, but another possible choice could be Lady Antebellum. They haven't been out there as long as Brad, but neither have Miranda Lambert or the Zac Brown Band, and Keith Urban has already been a winner in this category (he picked up the trophy in 2005). Lady A landed five CMA nominations this year, proving their star power, and made appearances everywhere from The Oprah Winfrey Show to singing the national anthem at the World Series.

Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert should get ready for a very, very nice evening, because we predict she will be going home with an armload of trophies! It feels right that Miranda will win her first CMA Female Vocalist award, given her performances on songs like the spunky 'White Liar' and sentimental 'The House That Built Me,' both from the platinum-selling album, 'Revolution.' Besides, she's already won the Academy of Country Music's Top Female Vocalist award earlier this year, so it seems only natural that the Country Music Association would honor her, as well. With nine nods for the night, the CMA's most-nominated female in history will also celebrate her 27th birthday Wednesday, and no doubt fiancé Blake Shelton will be right beside her to celebrate her well-deserved recognition.

Or it could be... Still riding high on the success of songs such as 'Cowboy Casanova,' Carrie Underwood is a formidable competitor. The newlywed has won the Female Vocalist title three times, and if she were to win it again, she would tie fellow nominees Martina McBride and Reba McEntire for total wins in the category.


Male Vocalist of the Year: The CMA nominations are such a surprise mix of new and established artists this year, it is difficult to truly guess how the pulse of the votership may be beating. For this category, The Boot is going to go out on a limb for another first-time vocalist winner: Dierks Bentley. Dierks is an artist who released solid music in 2010, including the daring 'Up on the Ridge' bluegrass-roots album, while strengthening his foothold in the mainstream consciousness with songs including 'Draw Me a Map' and 'Bad Angel,' featuring Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson. We'll put our dollar down on Dierks.

On the other hand ... Blake Shelton has been on fire in 2010. From being the latest inducted member of the Grand Ole Opry to logging searing success with Trace Adkins on the rollicking 'Hillbilly Bone,' Blake has had the same kind of unbelievably successful year as his honey, Miranda Lambert. Country music loves a happy couple as much as amazing talent, so the CMA could decide to give the engaged pair a set of matching vocalist trophies as an early wedding present.

Whatever happens, we do think that the Male Vocalist of the Year prize will go home with a first-time winner.

New Artist of the Year: It's our guess that the Zac Brown Band's Grammy will have some company in the trophy case come Thursday morning. If a brand-new act can achieve five consecutive No. 1 singles from a debut album that has double platinum sales, and is nominated for Entertainer the very same year they are up for New Artist, who would you suppose might win the New Artist category? The Zac Brown Band accomplished these amazing milestones in 2010, so look for the band to snap this one up.

Still, sometimes surprises happen ... and if this is one of those times, Luke Bryan is an artist who has come out of the gate with two strong No. 1 singles, 'Do I' and 'Rain Is a Good Thing.' He's got a lot of energy and is building a solid fan base that's gonna last him awhile. Plus, so far Luke is your pick in The Boot's CMA fan poll! (Vote here.)

Christie Goodwin, Getty Images


Vocal Group of the Year: This may be one of the tougher categories to call. Lady Antebellum managed to pull this award away from long-running winners Rascal Flatts last year, and will be looking to repeat their win with an even stronger year than they had in 2009. However, the Zac Brown Band have burst out of the box with music and excitement that appeals to a different type of beach-going, fried chicken-eating country fan than the sounds of Lady A and Rascal Flatts. While we'd love to predict the first tie in CMA Awards history, it cannot be ignored that Lady A had the No. 1 best-selling album of an already illustrious year, so we think they'll hold onto their CMA title.

But it bears noting ... Since it's a vocal category and not an all-around entertainment category, the Zac Brown Band -- also extremely impressive in sales of both their albums -- could upset the reigning Vocal Group champs.

Vocal Duo of the Year: They have won this category for three consecutive years now, and we think 2010 will be No. 4 for Sugarland. On the heels of hits like 'All I Wanna Do' and with the release of the new energized album, 'The Incredible Machine,' there simply is no other duo in country music that is clicking in quite the same way as this dynamic pair.

Another scenario... Brooks & Dunn are the winning-est duo in country music history, and rightly so. For 20 years, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have made music that will stand the test of time long after The Last Rodeo tour faded into memory in September. If the CMA voters decide they'd like to acknowledge that with a stunning 15th trophy for Duo of the Year, Brooks & Dunn would be worthy of it.