Here’s Why Keith Urban Is the CMA Entertainer of the Year
It's worth wondering why Keith Urban's Entertainer of the Year win at the 2018 CMA Awards was so stunning. You could make an argument that he's the most talented of the five nominees. The "Never Comin' Down" singer has hits, an interactive sold-out tour and record sales. People love him and he has an adorable Hollywood wife.
Like Dierks Bentley in the Male Vocalist of the Year category, Urban has been the bridesmaid so many times (nine since his win in 2005) that the country audience has just grown used to it.
So what changed? For starters, Urban has quietly become country music's most dependable viral artist. He's a star on YouTube for reasons other than his songs, and it started years ago when he began brining local female singers on stage with him to sing Miranda Lambert's part of "We Were Us" at tour stops. Some of those artists went places and took their teams (read: voters) with them.
Then it was random guitar heroes like Rob Joyce and Ellen Tefanis whose videos with Urban have notched 3.3M and 4.3M views on Taste of Country's YouTube channel alone. They ratcheted up and brought teams — did you know Joyce now plays guitar for Big Machine Label Group newcomer Riley Green?
Most recently, news of Urban's visit with a young woman facing hospice started to be disseminated. It never seems forced or staged — Urban spent an hour with Marissa English and says he was changed for it. "I'm amazed at what the families go through in those situations," he told Taste of Country on Monday (Nov. 14), admitting that he's become more eager to make those visits with age. "Because of the precious reality of life and how quick — we take it for granted our health. The second you don't have that everything just collapses like a house of cards. I don't take any of it for granted."
This all proves the point without even mentioning Urban's favorite duet partner: his wife. Every time Nicole Kidman joins her hubs onstage, the internet kind of loses its mind. Here's proof:
Urban won is because he does the hard work offstage, too — he puts in the time, he does the interviews. We said this last year about Garth Brooks, too, in part to explain his Entertainer of the Year win and in part to defend his decision to lip sync in 2017. On Monday (Nov. 12), Urban spent hours making the rounds at the CMA Awards Radio Remotes. Not being there isn't an indictment, but Luke Bryan was the only other nominee to do this, and the effort matters.
Like Garth, Keith isn't just physically present — he engages with thoughtful answers. He remembers your name and shares just enough of his personal life to make everyone happy. He's a pro. Are you starting to see how the votes might have added up?
"Someone said, 'Did you do any campaigning?'" the 2019 Taste of Country Music Festival headliner asked backstage after the CMA Awards. "I just played every night. That was it."
It's kind of true, but he also elevates those around him, especially women. Lindsay Ell, Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina and Kassi Ashton are four female artists he's actively celebrated onstage and social media recently. You may also remember he signed Maren Morris to his tour before she even had a record deal or a radio single. Then these women (plus his other opening acts) watch him and realize "Holy crap! This guy is amazing." He literally brought a marching band to the stage during a tour stop in Nashville this year. If that's not entertaining, nothing is.
No other artist has pushed the boundaries of country music further than Urban has across his last three studio albums, including the CMA nominated Graffiti U. He's able to do it with minimal pushback because A) he's talented and committed to what roots country music (great storytelling), and B) he's Keith Urban. Keith Urban's win is a win for anyone who held on to the roseate notion that with a little grit, confidence, courage and creativity, you can build an audience large enough to lift you to great heights.
See More Show Highlights From the 2018 CMA Awards