ACM Awards 2021 promise country's biggest stars will perform with some major exceptions

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The Academy of Country Music Awards will kick off Sunday with a slew of familiar faces in the genre while a handful of others are missing.

Some of the genre’s biggest stars and chart-toppers such as Morgan Wallen and Luke Bryan won’t be in the building when the 2021 show kicks off.

Wallen, whose latest album and singles have found major success on both the country and pop charts, was declared ineligible by the ACMs after he was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year. Bryan, meanwhile, backed out of the event because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. The diagnosis also kept him from appearing as a judge on the first live show of the season for “American Idol.” 

Bryan is nominated for the top prize — entertainer of the year — where his competition includes Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Eric Church and Thomas Rhett, who won the honor last year in a tie with Carrie Underwood.


All of the entertainer of the year nominees, with the exceptrion of Bryan, will perform — most of them pre-taped at various venues in Nashville, Tennessee, including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe. The audience will be small and made up of medical and healthcare workers.

Morgan Wallen will not appear at the 2021 ACM Awards.
(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

“Coming in and finding out that you winning entertainer of the year along with Carrie Underwood, that’s just — that’s just adrenaline to last you the whole year pretty much,” Rhett said in an interview Saturday. “So it’s an honor to be back at the ACMs, nominated in that same category is just super special. And something that I will never in a million years take for granted and just feel super honored to be here.”

Some performers will join forces onstage: Underwood will sing with gospel legend CeCe Winans; Maren Morris will perform with her hubby Ryan Hurd; Dierks Bentley will sing U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” with husband and wife duo The War and Treaty; and Miranda Lambert and pop-rock singer Elle King are set to kick off the show with their new duet “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).”

Other performers include Blake Shelton, Alan Jackson, Dan + Shay, Lady A, Brothers Osborne and Ashley McBryde. The foursome Little Big Town will also perform though band member Phillip Sweet won’t participate since he recently tested positive for COVID-19 as well.

Luke Bryan sat out a recent episode of "American Idol" due to a positive coronavirus test.
(ABC/Brian Bowen Smith)

Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton are hosting for the first time, and they are also expected to perform onstage.


Stapleton and Morris are the top nominees with six each. Stapleton’s nominations include album, song and male artist of the year. Morris’ nominations include single and female artist of the year. She also landed a group of the year nod as a member of the Highwomen, the supergroup also featuring Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby.


Some of the ACM winners were pre-announced, including Gabby Barrett (new female artist), Jimmie Allen (new male artist) and Kane Brown (video of the year). Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s platinum hit “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” co-written by Combs, won music event of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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