Who will own country music's biggest night?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Dierks Bentley readied the release of his seventh album earlier this year, he led with the single "Bourbon in Kentucky."
But he quickly had to switch up his plans.
"I had to pull it because it was too heavy, too dark," he said in a recent interview. "It wasn't working in the radio world."
He decided to release "I Hold On," a personal tune that became a hit. "Drunk on a Plane" followed and marked back-to-back successes for the 38-year-old Bentley.
Now, he's the leading male nominee at Wednesday's Country Music Association Awards with five nominations, including album of the year for "Riser," song of the year for "I Hold On" and single of the year for "Drunk." The latter song won music video of the year when the CMAs announced early winners Wednesday on "Good Morning America."
"I wasn't even totally thinking about that or focusing on that at all, so that was like a really cool icing on the cake," he said of his nominations, which also includes male vocalist of the year. "So it's been a really good year. A year I feel like we've worked hard to get toward. Hard work doesn't really necessarily translate into success in my business."
His competition is tough: Miranda Lambert has nine nominations, nearly double for Bentley, who is second.
Lambert is nominated for the top honor, entertainer of the year, and is the only female in the category. She will battle last year's winner, George Strait, as well as Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and husband Blake Shelton.
Lambert's album "Platinum" is nominated for album of the year, while her single "Automatic" will compete for both single and song of the year. She was also an early winner for musical event of the year for "We Were Us" with Urban.
She'll perform twice during the show, which will air live on ABC (8 p.m. EST) from the Bridgestone Area in Nashville.
"I did a four-and-a-half-hour fitting yesterday, so that was the process," Lambert said. "I have like five changes during the show, so it will be a little bit of a crazy night."
Bryan, who has three nominations, will also perform. His album "Crash My Party" was released more than a year ago, but is currently in the Top 40 on Billboard's 200 albums chart, and has sold more than 2.1 million copies. It will compete for album of the year, along with Eric Church's "The Outsiders," Urban's "Fuse" and efforts from Lambert and Bentley.
Both Lambert and Shelton, who has three nominations, will be going for their fifth consecutive wins in the female and male vocalist of the year categories.
Lambert, 30, will perform with "All About That Bass" singer Meghan Trainor. Ariana Grande will join Little Big Town, while Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott, Jennifer Nettles and Hunter Hayes will perform with the Doobie Brothers.
Kenny Chesney, Church, Kacey Musgraves and Tim McGraw will also perform. Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, who are returning for their seventh year as hosts, will also take the stage.
Jimmy Kimmel will also have hosting duties: "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" will broadcast via hologram to a live audience at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. A performance by Florida Georgia Line will also be sent by hologram to Hollywood.
Presenters at the 2014 CMAs include Garth Brooks, Tim Tebow, Steven Tyler, Connie Britton, Darius Rucker, Trisha Yearwood and Lucy Hale.
AP Writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report.
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