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Predicting the ACMs: Swift, Shelton Likely to Repeat–But How About a Lady A/Band Perry Smackdown?

Our Country

If you were a betting country music fan, you'd probably already be in Las Vegas to get some roulette spinning in, in advance of Sunday night's Academy of Country Music Awards. But if you prefer your wagers to be purely symbolic, there's no reason not to be an armchair gambler and lay odds on who'll win the top prizes at the ACMs.

In what are usually the three most-watched categories—entertainer, male vocalist, and female vocalist of the year—we're placing our bets on a three-peat by Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, and Miranda Lambert, respectively. But everything else is up for grabs. See if our prognostications meet with your approval:

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR

• Jason Aldean

• Kenny Chesney

• Brad Paisley

• Blake Shelton

• Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift

WILL WIN: Swift. This award goes to the person who's considered the best ambassador to the outside world for country music and/or the biggest touring act. Without a doubt, both criteria fit T-Swift to a tee. And if she won it last year, how much easier will it be to give it to her after yet another sold-out concert trek this past year that found her graduating to stadiums in some cities? Also, this award is largely fan-voted. Need we say more? There's a huge amount of support for Shelton and Aldean, too, but those votes may cross each other out. Paisley and Chesney have had their day, the thinking goes—fairly or otherwise—as much as it seems premature to relegate them to elder statesmen.

SHOULD WIN: Swift. What, you don't agree? Why you gotta be so mean? The genre could have no better evangelist, as far as being a Vogue cover girl and someone who's not so far above her raising as to not stop by to do interviews with local radio DJs, as she did with a huge number of them assembled in Las Vegas this week. A gracious savant who happens to be one of the world's half-dozen most beloved entertainers in any genre is not going to lose this without a much-merited riot.

TOP MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR

• Jason Aldean

• Kenny Chesney

• Brad Paisley

• Blake Shelton

Chris Young

Blake Shelton

WILL WIN: Shelton will have yet another trophy to drink to. Prognosticators could make a rock-solid case for any of these five, really, but this will be his eternal consolation prize for as long as he misses out on the top category.

SHOULD WIN: Same. Young might be technically the best singer, but Shelton's no slouch there, either, and personality counts almost as much. In lieu of there being a Best Raconteur category in which to reward America's favorite Okie, this'll do.

TOP FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR

Sara Evans

Miranda Lambert

Martina McBride

• Taylor Swift

Carrie Underwood

WILL WIN: Who doesn't love Miranda? This one will belong to country's most invigorating non-crossover artist for years to come.

SHOULD WIN: Same. Although you could make a case that if Swift merits the top prize, she ought to get some "lesser" ones, too.

TOP VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR

Love and Theft

Montgomery Gentry

Steel Magnolia

Sugarland

Thompson Square

WILL WIN: This will be Sugarland's to lose in perpetuity. But don't count out the remote possibility of voters getting tired of the same-old and going with one of the genre's most beloved new acts, Thompson Square.

SHOULD WIN: Thompson Square.

TOP VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR

• The Band Perry

Eli Young Band

Lady Antebellum

Rascal Flatts

Zac Brown Band

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The Band Perry + pup

WILL WIN: The Band Perry should pull an upset here and steal it away from Lady Antebellum, just as Lady A usurped long-time category champions Rascal Flatts two years ao.

SHOULD WIN: Same. TBP is the freshest and biggest new act since Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean, and there's no reason they should stop getting awards once they've graduated from the new artist category.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Chief - Eric Church

Four the Record - Miranda Lambert

Hemingway's Whiskey — Kenny Chesney

My Kinda Party - Jason Aldean

Own the Night - Lady Antebellum

WILL WIN: The toughest category to call, but we have to go with Aldean. He's been on more of an upswing than anybody in the genre over the last couple of years. And if we're right about him losing entertainer and male vocalist, a lot of voters will want to make sure Aldean gets recognized in a major way somewhere. Of course, Lambert is more likely to win than not in this category in any given year, since she really shines in a long-form format and is so much more than just a singles artist. Lady A's third effort was huge—again. But we actually think the second-strongest groundswell of support might be for Church, whose album won kudos from critics and programmers alike. But in the end, Eric will probably split the "rugged integrity" vote with Miranda.

SHOULD WIN: Lambert has gone four for four, as great albums go, and she should win this even if it seems a bit de rigeur by now to reward her for such consistent greatness.

SINGLE RECORD OF THE YEAR

• 'Crazy Girl,' Eli Young Band

• 'Don't You Wanna Stay,' Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson

• 'Red Solo Cup,' Toby Keith

• 'Tomorrow,' Chris Young

• 'You and Tequila,' Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

WILL WIN: It's a contest between beer and tequila… specifically, between "Red Solo Cup" and "You and Tequila." The ubiquity of Toby's tune is fresher on voters' minds, though they certainly may decide to go with something a little less frothy and reward Kenny's ballad.

SHOULD WIN: You + tequila = a winning combination, even if the evocative, writerly tune will hold a hard time triumphing over.

SONG OF THE YEAR

• 'Crazy Girl' - Eli Young Band

• 'Home' - Dierks Bentley

• 'Just a Kiss' - Lady Antebellum

• 'Threaten Me With Heaven' - Vince Gill

• 'You and Tequila' - Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

WILL WIN: "You and Tequila" should find a pair of high heels on the way to the podium, in the lovely form of songwriters Matraca Berg and Deana Carter, both former mainstream country stars in their own right. But it's another close call. How can you count out "Crazy Girl," the biggest song of 2011—and one that could score a popular win for its much-liked writer, Lee Brice—or the patriotic yet nuanced "Home"?

SHOULD WIN: It doesn't stand the chance of a snowball in Vegas of winning, but Gill's "Threaten Me With Heaven," which got almost no radio play, is one of the most moving country-gospel songs in decades.

VIDEO OF THE YEAR

• 'Tattoos On This Town,' Jason Aldean

• 'Homeboy,' Eric Church

• 'Red Solo Cup,' Toby Keith

• 'Just a Kiss,' Lady Antebellum

• 'Mean,' Taylor Swift

WILL WIN: "Red Solo Cup." Are you kidding?

SHOULD WIN: Swift didn't get nearly as many nominations as she deserved in the sub-entertainer categories, and it would be a gas to see her win something for this ultimate kiss-off to her critics.

VOCAL EVENT OF THE YEAR

• 'Country Boy,' Aaron Lewis featuring George Jones and Charlie Daniels

• 'Don't You Wanna Stay' Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson

• 'Old Alabama' Brad Paisley feat. Alabama

• 'Remind Me' Brad Paisley duet with Carrie Underwood

• 'You and Tequila' Kenny Chesney feat. Grace Potter

WILL WIN: Aldean and Clarkson seem unbeatable. The hook they share is such a classic earwig, you can't begrudge these genre-crossers the win.

SHOULD WIN: We're suckers for a mash-up, and Paisley came up with a doozy when he interpolated a signature Alabama song into one of his own. More than anything else in this competitive category, it's the one that seems most Event-ful with a capital E.

Who are your picks?

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