The nomination that caught a lot of us off guard was Kelly Clarkson in the Female Vocalist category. Was this a political move by the industry? Arguably, all nominations are politically fueled, but this one in particular seems to carry a fishy stench that one cannot eliminate with a few squirts of Febreze (I like Apple Mango Tango). Kelly has had just one official solo country single in her career, the remastered to ‘sound more country’ version of ‘Mr. Know It All’. It peaked at 21 on the country chart.
The power of manager Narvel Blackstock (who also happens to be Reba McEntire’s husband) is clear in the nominations. Blake Shelton continued to coast his star status to #1 hits and multiple CMA nominations despite mediocre reviews and solid but not spectacular sales while Kelly Clarkson took a 5th (filler) spot in the Female Vocalist Of The Year category over actual country acts like Sara Evans and Kellie Pickler. Though the country media likes Kelly, this isn’t a nomination that is getting a great reaction and is generally interpreted as a sign of how bad it is for women in country.
Obviously Kelly’s manager would want what’s best for her – the better she does the more money he makes! But let’s add some fuel to the fire. Kelly dates Narvel’s son who also works for the management company his daddy owns. That means Kelly dates Reba’s stepson for those of you having a hard time keeping up.
But, there’s more to this than daddy getting his son some extra nookie. Let’s go back to the money factor. A successful crossover into a new format can bring in millions of extra dollars. Did Narvel call in some favors to set the stage for a crossover?
Back in 2009, Reba set me straight on Kelly’s country status. Take a listen..
CORRECTION: ‘Mr. Know It All’ was completely redone for country radio. Everything from the musical arrangements to the vocals, although the lyrics remain the same. (Thanks zimfar)
Windmills wanted to chime in as well..
That audio that Broadway posted from Reba kind of says it all IMO.
I’m a BIG Kelly fan. I think she’s the best singer in pop music today. I love how she’s been able to survive and thrive in the craziness of the pop world for 10 years. When I hear Breakaway the song, I still get teary eyed. Irvine kills me. Her biggest uptempo hits like Since U Been Gone & What Doesn’t Kill You are my jams. I also think this girl is capable of singing country music, especially the bluesy kind a la Reba’s Why Haven’t I Heard From You, just like she’s capable of singing music in any genre. Kelly’s versatility is amazing and one of my favorite things about her.
I’m sure there are many country fans like me who also love Kelly, so it only makes sense for her to sing some crossover stuff.
But, I thought the Mr Know It All remix was lame and it’s not the way I wanted to see Kelly enter the country world. MKIA’s a pop song, inside and out, and rerecording it with mandolin and banjo just made it a pop song trying and failing to masquerade as a country song. Kelly’s singing didn’t even sound country on it. She sang it like a wounded bird, it was basically an acoustic pop version of the song. The MKIA “country” remix, which was released to Itunes, didn’t even crack the Itunes country t200 chart when the song was getting country airplay. That’s the genre chart for country, not the overall chart. It didn’t sell and I think people just weren’t into it. It peaked at #21 which wasn’t a total fail but it also wasn’t anything to write home about. It definitely wasn’t an indication that Kelly’d made an impact in the country world. And like Broadway’s saying, that was the only thing she released to country in the eligibility year. This isn’t about saying Kelly is not welcome in the country world. It’s about saying a nomination for Female Vocalist Of The Year is WAY premature (as she acknowledged when she tweeted and said she’d earn it) and undeserved at this time.
Sara Evans continued promoting her country album during the same year, she was the main opening act for Rascal Flatts’ tour during the same year in addition to doing a lot of her own one-offs at fairs, festivals, and casinos. She released My Heart Can’t Tell You No which matched MKIA’s country peak. The only reason she didn’t release another single in the eligibility period was because of her label’s schedule (Anywhere finally went for adds 7/16). She did a lot more to be relevant in the country world than Kelly.
Kellie Pickler didn’t have a lot of chart success but Tough peaked at #30 last October, and she released one of mainstream country’s best reviewed albums in January 2012. She’s been very visible and what’s killing me is she’s been promoting traditional country music everywhere she’s been. She’s been an ambassador that way. She’s also been doing a lot of her own concert dates. I’d say she was more relevant in the country world than Kelly. The only reason she didn’t have a prayer of a Female Vocalist nomination is she no longer has a label.
If you look at the information about the voting process (here: http://www.cmaworld.com/cma-awards/about), you can see it doesn’t take much to get past the 1st round of voting (as long as you’re in the t20 of votes in your category which is unfortunately pretty easy in Female Vocalist because there aren’t many who are charting). Here’s what I think happened in the 2nd round which determines the nominees. Notice it says for this round, “Individual Members select up to five nominees in each category.” The “up to” part is significant. Odds are a lot of people only voted for 3 or 4 (Carrie/Miranda/Taylor/Martina). It probably only took a bit of blockvoting to slide Kelly into 5th place. If you don’t think Narvel Blackstock is capable of that, I would recommend you go back to the 2011 CMAs when Blake Shelton got nominated for Album Of The Year for a 6 pack EP nobody took seriously, that had sold only around 200k, and that got mediocre reviews.
It’s very clear the plan is for Kelly to promote to the country market now. MKIA was a test run and IMO it wasn’t the way to go about it. The CMA move is part of that plan, and I also disagree with it. In fact country media people are universally disagreeing with the nomination despite liking Kelly – look at what Brian Mansfield of USA Today said, look at what Jimmy Carter who does Nashville entertainment news on a bunch of radio stations said, look at what Entertainment Weekly’s Grady Smith said, look at what Sarah Skates of Music Row magazine said. There’s definitely backlash over it. Nothing Kelly and her management can’t smooth over, but IMO if she wants to keep promoting to the country world, she needs to be careful. The industry has a way of holding premature rewards against you, especially if you’re female. That’s why IMO Warner Bros Nashville didn’t lobby for Jana Kramer (who now has a t5 country hit) to be nominated for Female Vocalist – she’s trying to build a career in country and they know a premature nomination could hurt her.
Speaking of which, the real story in all of this is actually how hard it is for country females to break through. It wouldn’t have been so easy for politicking to get Kelly a nomination if some of the very talented ladies in country were getting more of a chance. Kellie Pickler made a great album, Sunny Sweeney’s such an interesting singer-songwriter, Ashton Shepherd’s such an authentic country voice, Katie Armiger’s a strong country/pop talent, Lauren Alaina’s another really strong talent with some hits on her debut album including her current single, Jana’s worked so hard and is making some waves, Maggie Rose has been trying to break through for years and may finally have found a single to do it, Kristen Kelly’s a fresh new voice and songwriter, and Kacey Musgraves is blowing me away with her new songs. It’s got to be discouraging to them when a superstar pop singer can just swoop in and get radio space and an awards nomination based on her name and connected management.
Like I said at the beginning of this, I understand why Kelly wants to cross over and I support it with the right songs and if she puts in the work. But, I hope her fans can understand that for those of us who care about the country genre more than any single act, there are many very talented ladies who have dedicated themselves to country music and we want to see them getting the recognition they’ve worked so hard for, without them getting cut in front of by somebody who released a remix of a pop song.