Brad Paisley and Brooks & Dunn head into this year's Country Music Association Awards show with six nominations apiece, but Carrie Underwood could be belle of the ball once all the trophies are handed out -- and not because she's wearing an $850,000 outfit.
When the red carpet rolls out Monday night, Underwood will be sparkling in a diamond-studded, David Rodriguez gown that'll be auctioned off for charity.
Let's just hope those 800 Kwiati diamonds don't clash with all the gold she's likely to collect. Behind her powerhouse hit, "Jesus Take the Wheel," the former "American Idol" star is up for four awards, and can be expected to be called to the podium, perhaps several times.
But the evening should hold many surprises, with Sara Evans making her first public appearance since her highly publicized divorce filing and subsequent withdrawal from "Dancing With the Stars." She'll be singing her hit, "Real Fine Place to Start"
Not expected at this year's festivities -- which air live at 8 p.m. ET on ABC TV -- is Keith Urban, who entered a substance treatment facility a few weeks ago. But, certainly, the lineup of performers -- with Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Rascal Flatts and Alan Jackson, among many others -- would be hard to top.
Hosts Brooks & Dunn will open the show with "Building Bridges," with Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill joining them on stage. And, certainly, one of the highlights of the evening will be the tribute to George Strait, who will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Strait, who charted his first hit in 1981, has won 16 CMA awards over his amazing career, and he'll be performing, "Give It Away."
Here's a look at some of the most closely watched categories and predictions of who should win, and who (most likely) will.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Brooks & Dunn; Kenny Chesney; Brad Paisley; Rascal Flatts; Keith Urban.
Who Will Win/Who Should Win: No one has worked harder and more successfully to take country music to the masses this year than Kenny Chesney, who's well past the mini-scandal of 2005's quickie marriage and divorce to Renee Zellweger. Chesney has reached new heights in 2006, selling out stadiums from Seattle to Nashville, where a good portion of CMA voters live. Add on a pair of No. 1 hits and another chart topping live album this year, and Kenny should walk away with the top prize.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Dierks Bentley; Kenny Chesney; Alan Jackson; Brad Paisley; Keith Urban.
Who Will Win: Keith Urban has won this category for the last two years, and he stands a good chance of taking it again on the strength of his mega hit "Tonight I Wanna Cry."
Who Should Win: Brad Paisley has delivered a diverse offering of hits this year including the tune "Alcohol," written from the perspective of the mind-altering substance, to the gospel number "When I Get Where I'm Going," with Dolly Parton. A CMA favorite with 33 career nominations, Brad deserves to take the Male Vocalist trophy this year.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Sara Evans; Faith Hill; Martina McBride; Carrie Underwood; Gretchen Wilson.
Who Will Win: Faith Hill made a big return with her recent album, "Fireflies," scoring several top 10 hits and a No. 1 single, "Mississippi Girl," last year, so the voters could decide to reward her with second career win in this category.
Who Should Win: When it comes to success on the charts and sales numbers, Carrie Underwood is head and shoulders above any other female vocalist this year. However, a win this year would be considered by many in the industry as too much, too soon for Carrie. After all, she released her first album only a year ago. Still, you can't argue with 3 million albums sold and the six weeks "Jesus Take the Wheel" spent at No. 1.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Brooks & Dunn, "Hillbilly Deluxe"; Rascal Flatts, "Me and My Gang"; Alan Jackson, "Precious Memories"; Kenny Chesney, "The Road and the Radio"; Brad Paisley, "Time Well Wasted."
Who Will Win: Alan Jackson's "Precious Memories" stands a good chance of winning this category because the CMA voters tend to favor left of center albums, and this one definitely fits that bill. Recorded on a small budget as a Christmas present for his mother, the album wasn't even intended for public release until Alan's record label heard it and turned it into a million-seller. If recent wins in this category for 2001's "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and Johnny Cash's "American IV: The Man Comes Around" in 2003 are any indication, Alan could take home his third Album of the Year trophy Monday night.
Who Should Win: Brad Paisley's "Time Well Wasted" is a career best, featuring multiple No. 1 singles and Paisley's clever wit. With two previous nods in this category, Brad is overdue for an Album of the Year win.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton, "When I Get Where I'm Going"; Brooks & Dunn, "Believe"; Keith Urban, "Better Life"; Carrie Underwood, "Jesus Take the Wheel"; Kenny Chesney, "Summertime."
Who Will Win/ Who Should Win: Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" and Keith Urban's "Better Life" both spent six weeks at No. 1 on the charts, but "Jesus Take the Wheel" launched Carrie into the country music stratosphere while Keith's song was just another tune in a series of hits, so this one belongs to Miss Underwood.
VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Alison Krauss & Union Station with Jerry Douglas; Little Big Town; Lonestar; Rascal Flatts; Sugarland.
Who Should Win/ Who Will Win: Rascal Flatts all but have this category in the bag, thanks to their multi-week No. 1 crossover hit "What Hurts the Most," the No. 1 selling country album, "Me and My Gang," and one of music's top grossing tours in any genre.
VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Big & Rich; Brooks & Dunn; Mongomery Gentry; Van Zant; The Wreckers.
Who Will Win/ Who Sould Win: Brooks & Dunn have won this category every year since 1991, with the exception of Montgomery Gentry's 2000 win, and there's no doubt they'll take it home again Monday night on the strength of their religious themed hit "Believe."
SONG OF THE YEAR (award to songwriter)
The Nominees: Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton, "When I Get Where I'm Going"; Big & Rich, "8th of November"; Brooks & Dunn, "Believe"; Carrie Underwood, "Jesus Take the Wheel"; Keith Urban, "Tonight I Wanna Cry."
Who Should Win/ Who Will Win: This award usually goes to the most religious song, so Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn and Carrie Underwood are the favorites here. Still, "Jesus Take the Wheel" had the biggest impact, spending six weeks at No. 1, so look for it to win Song of the Year.
The Nominees: Miranda Lambert, Sugarland, Carrie Underwood, Josh Turner, Little Big Town.
Who Will Win/ Who Should Win: With three consecutive No. 1 hits and more than 3 million copies of her debut album sold in a matter of months, Carrie Underwood is a shoo-in for the Horizon Award.
MUSICAL EVENT OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Brad Paisley featuring Dolly Parton, "When I Get Where I'm Going"; Faith Hill featuring Tim McGraw, "Like We Never Loved at All"; Brooks & Dunn featuring Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill, "Building Bridges"; Gretchen Wilson featuring Merle Haggard, "Politically Incorrect"; Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, "Who Says You Can't Go Home."
Who Will Win: Brad Paisley featuring Dolly Parton. Both artists have previous wins in this category, and the Country Music Association likes to keep it in the family with this award honoring two of their own rather than an rock or pop act.
Who Should Win: Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland's collaboration on "Who Says You Can't Go Home" put the rock act at No. 1 on the country charts, and that's an event in itself.
VIDEO OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: Big & Rich, "8th of November"; Brooks & Dunn, "Believe"; Carrie Underwood, "Jesus Take the Wheel"; Miranda Lambert, "Kerosene"; Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton, "When I Get Where I'm Going."
Who Will Win/ Who Should Win: This award has typically gone to the most innovative or fun clip, and Miranda Lambert's "Kerosene" fits both those bills with her tongue-in-cheeck performance as an arsonist.