By CHRIS TALBOTT
AP Entertainment Writer
Chris Young enjoys going to Las Vegas for the Academy of Country Music Awards for many reasons, including because he loves to gamble.
While the odds maker in him agrees he has “a chance” to win male vocalist of the year on Sunday after earning his first nomination in that category against Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton – all entertainer of the year nominees as well – at the young age of 26, he’s probably going to save his cash for the blackjack table and the slot machines.
“I’m not going to put any money on myself on this one,” Young said with a smile. “I don’t know how safe a bet that particular bet is.”
The smart money says this won’t be the last time Young shows up in the category, though. One of country music’s fastest rising stars, he’s also nominated for single record of the year for “Tomorrow” and is on a hot streak few can match with five straight No. 1s.
Young leads a group of 20-something nominees who are grabbing attention at the 47th annual ACMs, carried live on the East Coast from the MGM Grand on CBS at 8 p.m. EDT. While country’s biggest stars remain the top nominees at the awards – Chesney has nine and Aldean has six – youthful acts like Young and new artist of the year nominees Scotty McCreery, Brantley Gilbert and Hunter Hayes are horning in on the fun.
Young is among the most promising and popular of those young acts, earning his way with a deep voice and the ability to write his own songs. Friend and fellow nominee Luke Laird, who co-wrote Young’s latest hit “You,” thinks Young deserves the attention he’s getting.
“I know a lot of that stuff is political, but I will say – and I’ve written with a lot of artists – strictly if you’re going by vocals, he’s hard to beat,” Laird said. “I’ve sat in a room with him and I was blown away. He’s a real singer.”
Aldean and Kelly Clarkson won the first award handed out Sunday, taking vocal event of the year for their collaboration “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” ACM CEO Bob Romeo surprised Aldean with the news on the red carpet before the show.
Other stars who strutted on the red carpet included the Band Perry, the Eli Young Band and Carrie Underwood, who arrived in a long strapless nude-colored dress with silver details. She noted that she kept stepping on the hem of her own dress. Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland described her custom Max Azria dress color as “watermelon jolly rancher.”
Taylor Swift joins the quartet of country’s leading men in the chase for the academy’s top award, the fan-voted entertainer of the year. Chesney is going for his fifth win, which would move him into a tie for second most trophies in that category with Alabama behind Garth Brooks’ six. Swift is the reigning entertainer of the year.
Reba McEntire and Shelton return as co-hosts and the Zac Brown Band will headline the ACM Fan Jam, a satellite show at nearby Mandalay Bay where some performances will originate.
Many of country’s top stars are slated to perform or appear, along with non-country acts like LL Cool J, Marc Anthony, Ashton Kutcher and KISS. Actor-comedian Steve Martin, who is also an acclaimed banjo player, will help remember the late bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, died last week. His funeral was scheduled Sunday in Nashville.
Caitlin R. King contributed to this report.
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