Justin Moore's self-titled debut album was released in 2009. That record sold more than 500,000 units, and spawned four Top 40 singles, including the No. 1 hit, 'Small Town USA.'

The Arkansas native has subsequently released two more albums, 'Outlaws Like Me' and 'Off the Beaten Path,' both of which soared to the top of the charts, and had five more hit singles, including 2012's No. 1 song, 'Til My Last Day.' So it might seem a bit odd that Moore finds himself nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award for New Artist of the Year this year, almost five years after his freshman project -- but the Academy is standing by their decision.

“The Academy of Country Music Board of Directors -- which I have been a part of for 25+ years -- has a long history of supporting new country music acts,” ACM CEO Bob Romeo says (quote via Music Row). “The board finds that being in step with trends and acknowledging the country music landscape has improved our process and guaranteed the best candidates over the years."

He adds, "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. He has earned this nomination and we congratulate him and all ACM Award nominees, and look forward to celebrating their work at the awards in April.”

The decision has generated some controversy. According to the ACM's criteria for New Artist of the Year, Moore would not qualify for the category because both 'Justin Moore' and 'Off the Beaten Path' have been certified gold, signifying sales in excess of half a million units.

The regulations stipulate that, “Any solo artist that has sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album… according to Nielsen Soundscan, are not eligible for this category.”

However, the regulations also allow the option for voter discretion among the ACM Board of Directors, which includes 70 country music professionals.

“The criteria and voting procedures are set forth by the ACM Board of Directors in accordance with the bylaws, and may be amended from time to time as the board deems appropriate in the best interest of country music," the rules state. "Any disputes shall be resolved by the Chairman of the Board in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order.”

This is not the first time the ACM has made a surprising decision for the New Artist nominees. Eric Church took home the ACM Award for Top New Solo Vocalist in 2011, and was also nominated for Top New Artist that same year -- a perplexing decision considering by that point, Church had released two albums, 'Sinners Like Me' and 'Carolina,' which both landed in the Top 10 and had six Top 10 hits, including 'Love Your Love the Most.'

Ironically, Moore initially shared the New Artist category in early voting with Lee Brice, who was nominated in five categories, including Male Vocalist of the Year. Brice's first album was released in 2010, almost one full year after Moore's. And while Moore had one No. 1 record and three hit singles, including the No. 1 hit, 'Til My Last Day' and 'Point at You,' which peaked at No. 2, Brice didn't release any album last year, and had one No. 1 single and one Top 10 song.

The list of nominees for New Artist of the Year have since been narrowed down to Moore, Kip Moore and Brett Eldredge. The winner of the New Artist of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year, is fan-voted. Voting begins on March 24 here.

The ACM Awards will air live from Las Vegas on Sunday, April 6 at 8PM ET.

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