American Country Countdown Awards Preview: "Country Music's Christmas Office Party"

Associated Press
Carrie Underwood

The inaugural ACCAs will air live Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox

The inaugural American Country Countdown Awards will take place Monday night live from Nashville's Music City Center on Fox. In a crowded landscape of country music awards shows, what will set this one apart?

"We view the show as country music's Christmas office party," executive producer Mark Bracco explains to Billboard. "It's the end of the year, and it's been an amazing one in the format. Everyone is coming together in Nashville and will celebrate what a great year it has been, give each other a high-five, thank the fans and have some great performances. It's going to be an end-of-the-year party for country music."

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Plus, while other shows take a more critical view of the music, the ACC Awards go strictly by the numbers. "For us, the big difference is how the awards are given out," Bracco says. "It's the only country music awards show that is exclusively based on … album sales, radio airplay, touring data. The winners are all determined by those metrics. We have one award, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, which is fan-voted, but the finalists were determined by airplay, sales and everything, but all of the other awards were determined by metrics. If you sold the most albums, you will win Album of the Year. If your song got played the most, according to American Country Countdown, your song will win Song of the Year."

Bracco is excited about the show's performances -- especially the much-anticipated opener. "We couldn't be any luckier than to have Carrie Underwood open the show. She's got a Greatest Hits album that just came out that she really wanted to celebrate with us, and she's kicking off the show with a really spectacular performance. It's going to be something that celebrates her 10 years and is very amazing. To think that her career started on American Idol, and now, she's coming home to Fox to celebrate her 10 years in country music."

Florida Georgia Line will host the show, which Bracco's fellow EP, Richard Godfrey, calls "no-brainer." "They are so popular. … They are also great guys, and I think people are going to see them in a different light than ever before. They've been really great and really clever with some ideas. I think they seem very excited about this opportunity, and I am very optimistic that it's going to go very well."

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Godfrey promises a country awards show that will look and feel like no other. "We've assembled a different creative team from the team that does the other shows. It's going to have a party vibe, but it's going to be a classy party. We have Baz Halpin, who is our co-executive producer. He designed the Katy Perry tour and is designing the Taylor Swift tour. Though he's done a lot of TV appearances, he's never done an awards show like this, where he's been involved in the setting and creative elements of the show. I think you're going to see a real state-of-the-art production. We also brought in the same lighting designer who does the Super Bowl halftime show. Again, he's never done a country show. And the people who are doing the graphics have done a lot of big tours, but they've never done an awards show. The creative side will have a very different feel. I'm confident we're going to have some real talked-about moments."

One of those moments centers on Kenny Chesney, who will receive the first-ever Groundbreaker Award from presenter Vince Vaughn. Bracco says the prize "honors what he has done for touring within the country genre. He's one of the top artists over the past 25 years in any genre of music."

Another possible water-cooler moment is when Reba McEntire is presented with the NASH Icon award, while being celebrated in song with tributes from Miranda Lambert and Kelly Clarkson. Longtime McEntire friend Kix Brooks -- half of Brooks & Dunn and the host of the weekly syndicated radio show that is the namesake of the awards show -- says the first winner of the award has definitely carved out her own place in musical history.

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"As far as icons go, I don't think anyone would ever argue that Reba McEntire -- with her style, grace and God-given talent -- is just that. She's had No. 1 records in four decades, gone to Broadway and done it big, and has had success on TV. It's going to be a very special moment."

Brooks says the telecast will pay homage to the success the format has enjoyed in the past 12 months, and as host of American Country Countdown, he says he's glad to be a witness to it.

"I love our business. It's so exciting when you have a song that is doing that, so to be able to sit down and interview these new artists that are having their first hits, it's so great to share their excitement with them. My buds like Keith [Urban] and Miranda, that Ronnie [Dunn] and I had on the road with us when we were touring, it's so fun to see their longevity and the fact that they are still having hits. From a countdown perspective, I'm really a cheerleader, but I like keeping up with those songs each week. This job is a dream because I love the business and being in the middle of it and sitting down, and talking to the artists is what I love to do."

The American Country Countdown Awards airs Monday on Fox at 8 p.m. ET.

This story first appeared on Billboard.

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