First of all, disclaimer: I too only have one vote per category, and yes I voted…and no I'm not revealing how I voted.  With that said, I'm going to lay out my Top 20 nominated videos that I think were especially noteworthy this year.
Martina McBride
Credit: © CMT, Krista Lee Photography

Performance of the Year
First and foremost, and without any hesitation, I want to say that Martina McBride doing "A Broken Wing" with Train was among the most spiritual moments I've ever witnessed live (I was indeed in the audience). If you haven't seen this video yet, you may consider this an overstatement. Trust me it's not.

This category, as all of them, is loaded with stiff competition and certainly some expected names like Zac Brown Band, Reba, and hell – even John Mayer doesn't surprise me (he and Keith Urban were an inspired pairing for crossroads), but the other huge standout for me was Darius Rucker and Adele singing Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" at the 2010 CMT Artists Of The Year. Frankly, it was simply one of those covers that re-invented an already amazing song and took it all the way to 11 (excuse the spinal tap reference please).

Collaborative Video Of The Year
You'd simply have to be extremely new to country music to not know why it'll be hard to beat Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow's celebration of Loretta's breakout hit "Coal Miner's Daughter." It lived up to the expectation and even seemed to be a passing of the torch, so to speak, to the next generation of talented young artists. Filmed on Loretta's ranch, it was done right, tastefully, and certainly made a lot of folks go out and re-rent the movie bio-pic with Sissy Spacek (I did).

The other standout for me was Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson performing "Don't You Wanna Stay" at the 2010 CMA awards. This is Jason's year with 4 Noms and he earned it. But what I love about this video personally, besides the vocal perfection of these two paired together, are Jason's Guitarist and Bass player flanking the singers jamming like they're doing an encore at an AC/DC concert. There's as much enthusiasm in his band (which by the way he records ALL OF HIS ALBUMS WITH) than any other in country music out there.

USA Weekend Breakthrough Video Of The Year
Perhaps not so surprisingly, this is the toughest one for me. I greet every breakthrough artist on Top 20 as if I were their own manager. I feel slighted when they don't immediately hit #1 on the charts and I feel like I'm part of their team each time they do. The only way for me to handy-cap this category is to take everything into account, and that includes time spent on the Top 20 Countdown itself. Having said that, I'm all about The Band Perry's "If I Die Young." They filmed the music video for this ear-worm-hook of a song on the 2 River's Plantation in Nashville just days before it flooded in the 1000-year flood last May. It's the whole package.

A close second really could be a toss up between Jerrod Niemann's "Lover Lover" and Lee Brice's "Love Like Crazy." Now in this instance, I can say that if Jerrod were nominated for his second break out video "What Do You Want," I'd tip the scale towards him, but he wasn't and pound for pound, I'm going to go with Jerrod's good friend Lee Brice on this one based on message, appropriate simplicity of video concept, and well, the rally cap he wears in the video itself. I'll be watching this category on pins and needles though since it's be ludicrous to count out Thompson Square's "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" that makes you wonder why you didn't come up with it yourself, or Aaron Lewis' rabid, cross-over fan-base who already knew he was a country boy, if only a slightly Stained one…

Duo Video Of The Year
I'm going to go against conventional wisdom on this and not expand on Sugarland's "Stuck Like Glue" though they have dominated this segment of country music, and deservedly so for some time now. The first video I'm going with is Thompson Square and "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not." They're not only an "are you kidding me? you're so adorable" couple, but they arguably have the hook of the year with this song and a beautifully shot video to go with it.

I'm also going to go off the commercial reservation a bit and just say that, perhaps while a long-shot at this year's awards, The Civil Wars brought something truly refreshing to the genre with "Barton Hollow." There's nothing bubble-gum about this band or video what-so-ever in my opinion and even though they may suffer initially for it, I think they have long term potential if they can keep putting that quality out there.

Group Video Of The Year
Lady Antebellum takes us deep with "Hello World" and, as this year's all-genre super-group, they're gonna be tough to beat for some time to come. While I adore LBT's "Little White Church," (and them in general), I think Rascal Flatts may have an edge here with the mini-sequel to the Hangover film with their video "Why Wait." It was fun, different, and plays directly to the young voting audience. Though not officially in my Top 20, I may or may not have voted for Zac Brown Band's "Colder Weather." Just sayin.

Female Video Of The Year
Just draw out of a hat please. I could handicap each one of these videos and feel right about it. I do think the standouts are perhaps the two who may have been underdogs a few years ago, but came out swingin' this year. Of course that would be America's Sweetheart: Miranda Lambert (or the newly minted: Mrs. Shelton) with "The House That Built Me," and Sara Evan's making a strong come-back with "A Little Bit Stronger." These two songs and videos simply had the depth that the other three didn't setting this category up for a contest between "fun" and "feelings."

Male Video Of The Year
I'm going to base this one on video mostly, and there has never been (to my knowledge) anything like the epic achievement of Kenny Chesney's "The Boys Of Fall." The licensing of football footage alone was astounding, but the message connected with everyone in a way that Kenny has mastered over the years. Toby Keith also goes epic by creating another mini-movie with his video for "Bullets In The Gun." What's interesting about this video is that it was never really supposed to happen as the original tune was 4 plus minutes long, and would never make radio at that length. It just became such an overwhelmingly popular concert tune, that he was forced to shorten the song, and release it. Footnote: Kenny's video was almost 9 minutes if I remember correctly, proving that length may count after all – we'll see June 8th.

Best Web Video Of The Year
I'm gonna start with Blake Shelton's "Kiss My Country Ass" because Blake has some kind of weird, indescribable charisma the way only a few people have; sort of like the guy who earns your respect even while he's smacking you around a little. All this while simply playing a guitar and singing a song. And then there's Taylor Swift. Her release-party version of "Mine" was so highly anticipated I think a few teenage girls actually imploded watching this online. Taylor's star will not fade for any foreseeable future as it simply orbits Earth leaving a trail of teen emotions in its wake.

Best Video Director Of The Year
These folks never quite get the credit they deserve, but no artist will slight the video director's contribution to their careers. With that said, Trey Fanjoy partnered with country's hottest couple right now: Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton for the "House that Built me" and "Who Are You When I'm Not looking Videos," and then hit both out of the park. Chris Hicky brought us Carrie Underwood (and her legs) in the performance video for "Undo It," and then delivered Keith Urban's stripped down video for "Without you" featuring touching private home-movie footage from Keith and Nicole splashed on the wall. This is gonna be a tough one as well.

The Coup De Gras: Video Of The Year
While this is Jason Aldean's year, I'm not 100% sold he'll be simply "handed" this award for "My Kind Of Party"… though I certainly wouldn't be disappointed if it were. I think the two big achievements here are, once again, Kenny Chesney's "Boy's of Fall," and Miranda Lambert, changing course from tough-chick to sentimental, in "The House That Built Me." Miranda's reign is still strong from last years sweep at the CMA's and all of the other accolades she's finally received.

So those are my Top 20 Noteworthy pics for this years 2011 CMT Music Awards. I'd be the last one to go to Vegas on any one of these mentions however, and that's what makes the CMT Music Awards so special – it's up to the fans and –alas- I'm only one of them…

Stay tuned for next week's article!

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