At the 2017 CMA Awards, Eric Church was among the nominees for Entertainer of the Year, facing stiff competition from Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton and the winnerGarth Brooks. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Church admits that losing to Brooks was a bummer -- but going home without that trophy wasn't what upset him most.

At a press conference backstage at the CMAs, Brooks admitted that he'd lip-synced his performance at the event: "My voice was just not there, and we wanted to represent country music the best we can," the country icon said at the time. But, Church admits, "That pissed me off" -- and, to him, Brooks' reasoning wasn't good enough.

"F--k that!" Church says. "And I didn't like his excuse at all. I felt like he was speaking for the other nominees. I can speak for myself: I'm not lip-syncing. If I can't sing, I won't sing, or I'll sing badly. But at least you'll get what you get."

Besides, Church adds, Garth's lip-synced performance sets a bad example for the next generation of young country artists, many of whom idolize him.

"To me, lip-syncing is and always will be a red line. It's fabricated," Church adds. "I don't want young artists thinking it's okay, because it's not."

The newer artists that Church gets most excited about are the ones who take a traditional but innovative approach to the format, including Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. These artists explore new venues for their sound, but don't broaden the country genre at the expense of its core or legacy.

"The great thing about country music is where it came from," Church notes. "It can change and evolve, and it should. It's a big umbrella. But we can't let it get so wide that we don't know where the middle is. Country is not about hay bales or a fiddle. It's about emotion and the organic way we make it. We don't use machines. We use instruments."

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