Hunter Hayes and Thompson Square may have a date with history when the CMA Awards are presented on Thursday. Hayes, 21, is vying to become the youngest male solo artist to win as New Artist of the Year. He would swipe the title from Bryan White, who was 22 when he won in 1996 (when the award was called the Horizon Award).
Thompson Square, which consists of Keifer and Shawna Thompson, is vying to become the first husband-wife duo to win in the category. The only other duo to win was the mother-daughter duo The Judds, who won in 1984.
This year's other nominees are Lee Brice, Brantley Gilbert and the duo Love and Theft.
All five finalists have hit #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. Gilbert has had two #1 hits: "Country Must Be Country Wide" and "You Don't Know Her Like I Do." Hayes topped the chart with "Wanted," Thompson Square with "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not," Brice with "A Woman Like You" and Love And Theft with "Angel Eyes."
Thompson Square was also nominated in this category last year, which is allowable under the CMA's generous rules. Gilbert was also nominated for a CMA award last year, but as a songwriter. He co-wrote the Jason Aldean smash "Dirt Road Anthem," which was up for Song of the Year.
LeAnn Rimes was just 15 in 1997 when she won the Horizon Award, which makes her the youngest winner in the history of the category. She wasn't even born when the award was first presented in 1981. Taylor Swift was 17 in 2007 when she won. Wynonna Judd was 20 in 1984 when the Judds won.
Darius Rucker was 43 in 2009 when he won, which makes him the oldest winner in the history of the category. Naomi Judd was 38 when The Judds won. Ricky Van Shelton was 36 in 1988 when he won.
Rucker is also the only African American artist to win.
Most of the winners have been solo artists, but six groups have won: Sawyer Brown, Dixie Chicks, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Zac Brown Band and The Band Perry.
There are family ties in three of the winning groups. The Band Perry consists of siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry. Dixie Chicks includes sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. Rascal Flatts includes second cousins Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus.
The first winner of the Horizon Award, Terri Gibbs, had the shortest run as a top 10 hit-maker. Her only top 10 hit remains her first, "Somebody's Knockin'," which reached #8 on Hot Country Songs in January 1981.
Other new artist winners with slim hit portfolios are Alison Krauss (four top 10 hits), Gretchen Wilson (five) and Suzy Bogguss and Bryan White (six each). (I didn't include artists from the last five years on the grounds that time may boost their tallies.)
The winners with the fattest hit portfolios are Garth Brooks (36 top 10 hits), Wynonna Judd (31, combining 20 hits by the Judds and 11 solo hits), Randy Travis (30), Clint Black (29), Brad Paisley and Keith Urban (28 each) and Rascal Flatts (27).
Six of the winners went on to win Entertainer of the Year. Garth Brooks made the leap from the Horizon Award to Entertainer of the Year in just one year. Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift took two years. Ricky Skaggs took three. Keith Urban took four. Brad Paisley took 10 years.
Four of the winners also won the Grammy for Best New Artist. LeAnn Rimes won the Grammy in February 1997 and the CMA award that October. Carrie Underwood won the CMA award in October 2006 and the Grammy the following February. Darius Rucker won the Grammy in February 1996 (when he was part of Hootie & the Blowfish) and the CMA award in October 2009. Zac Brown Band won the Grammy in February 2010 and the CMA award that October.
Seven other CMA new artist winners were nominated for the Grammy for Best New Artist (but lost). They are: The Judds, Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley, Gretchen Wilson, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and The Band Perry.
The voters don't always get it right. George Strait and Reba McEntire competed for the Horizon Award in 1983. Neither artist won. The winner was John Anderson, who amassed 20 top 10 country hits but didn't follow Strait and McEntire to superstardom.
Here's a list of CMA winners for New Artist of the Year. (It was called the Horizon Award through 2007.)
1981: Terri Gibbs.
1982: Ricky Skaggs.
1983: John Anderson.
1984: The Judds.
1985: Sawyer Brown.
1986: Randy Travis.
1987: Holly Dunn.
1988: Ricky Van Shelton.
1989: Clint Black.
1990: Garth Brooks.
1991: Travis Tritt.
1992: Suzy Bogguss.
1993: Mark Chesnutt.
1994: John Michael Montgomery.
1995: Alison Krauss.
1996: Bryan White.
1997: LeAnn Rimes.
1998: Dixie Chicks.
1999: Jo Dee Messina.
2000: Brad Paisley.
2001: Keith Urban.
2002: Rascal Flatts.
2003: Joe Nichols.
2004: Gretchen Wilson.
2005: Dierks Bentley.
2006: Carrie Underwood.
2007: Taylor Swift.
2008: Lady Antebellum.
2009: Darius Rucker.
2010: Zac Brown Band.
2011: The Band Perry.