NASHVILLE, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- When Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus of Lyric Street Records' Rascal Flatts won the Horizon Award at the 2002 Country Music Association Awards, they had no idea the impact that honor would have on their career. The consequence was so significant that it propelled them toward a larger category in 2003, the vocal group of the year award, which they won over the veteran band Alabama when the 36th Annual CMA Awards were held Wednesday night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
"Being nominated gave us some attention," said Doug Turner, Rascal Flatts' manager about the 2002 Horizon Award nomination. "Winning it really singled us out, because the industry thought we were the next act to break out. We used that to build on. It seemed to give us a push. It's the recognition that the industry believes you are the next star."
Positive spikes in record sales typically occur after the CMA Awards for both winners and performers. For Rascal Flatts, who performed on the show before winning the Horizon Award in 2002, the timeliness of the exposure was important, because the group's album, "Melt," had just debuted at No. 1 on the day of the CMA Awards.
"It gave a lot to write about the next day, to talk about on the radio," Turner said. "From that week, our record went platinum (sells of 1 million units) in five weeks. Usually after the first week, you have a 40 percent dropoff," he said, "but for the next five weeks, we sold through tremendously. The numbers stayed way up there. With the show performance and winning, we didn't have the normal dropoff. The timing was perfect."
During the past 12 months, the band has gone from opening act status to headlining its own shows. At Wednesday's show, Rooney told the media gathered backstage that the band had just secured its first concert sponsorship with Coors Lite. The Coors Lite Melt Tour will take place January through June. In June, Rascal Flatts will tour with Kenny Chesney, who headlined the top country tour of the past season.
Sales and tour dates aside, winning the CMA Horizon Award opens publicity doors that otherwise had remained closed.
"It brings a lot of attention that you can't get any other way," Turner said. "There's no way you can go out and buy that."
"I know for a fact, in the beginning, there was no one knocking on our door," he said a couple of weeks prior to this year's show.
Music award shows are abundant. From the Grammys to the American Music Awards to the new Radio Music Awards, which debuted last month in Las Vegas, the artists have plenty of opportunities to walk away with one honor after another. Most in the country industry agree, however, that winning at the CMA Awards carries a higher level of prestige than perhaps any other awards.
With a voting body of approximately 5,000 industry professionals, the CMA Awards have the largest voting body in country music, according to Ed Benson, executive director for the CMA. Add to that the fact that the live show is viewed by more than 35 million people and the awards' importance begins to take shape. Those inside the industry, however, said the CMA Awards' distinction goes beyond numbers.
"First of all, you're at the Opry," said Joe Galante, chairman of RCA Label Group in Nashville. "Let's start there. It's a pretty historic place to start. And it is the culmination of the year's worth of work that you're voting on so it's the end of the year and you're celebrating that work. It's like doing a show in Washington, D.C., before the president. It's the same feeling in the sense that you're before the country music industry. The cream of the crop is sitting there. It's the home of country music, so you really are playing for these folks. And you're being recognized by these folks."
Winning a CMA Award definitely impacts an artist's career, most industry experts agree. Just as importantly, or more so, is the chance to perform on that coveted three-hour live CBS television program.
"Alan Jackson with the October 2001 CMA performance didn't win anything. But that performance was more important than winning," Galante said, referring to Jackson's performance of "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)," a song that helped propel Jackson to superstar status.
"We've had performances by k.d. lang on the show, Mary Chapin Carpenter, just two off the top of my head. ... They didn't win any awards, but their performances just absolutely took them to a new level," said Galante, who is a member of the CMA Television Committee, which chooses performers for the telecast.
With a limited number of performance slots available, the selection process involves several factors.
"Nominations are a big part of it," Galante said. "Looking at what's going on for the year and who's got multiple nominations. The other process is 'what's good for the TV show?' and what you think would be an incredible performance, as with Dolly and Norah Jones."
Teaming country singers with singers from other genres has been a part of the CMA Awards for many years. Sting, 'N'Sync, Sheryl Crow and Jewel are just a few of the non-country artists who have appeared on the show in the past.
The theory is to draw in non-country viewers and, perhaps, convert new fans. Sometimes the pairings work; sometimes they don't.
In 2003, the TV committee did well.
Indeed, the duet, "The Grass Is Blue," with Dolly Parton and Norah Jones, which appears on Parton's new CD, rocked the house and prompted show host Vince Gill to comment "Britney and Madonna can kiss all they want, I wanna hear (Dolly and Norah) sing," referring to the highly-publicized kiss between the two pop singers at the MTV Music Awards.
Another genre-crossing performance at the show featured Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett on "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." The single, which stayed at No. 1 for eight weeks, also won the award for vocal event of the year.
Backstage, Buffett told the media about agreeing to record the song with Jackson, "I'm glad I could help (his) struggling career."
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