ACM Awards Reveal Best New Artist Winners Early, and They’e Surprises: Tenille Townes and Riley Green

The Academy of Country Music Awards were delayed from April till September due to the pandemic, even though voting had already closed, meaning that nominees had to wait an extra five months to find out how things turned out. But that’s not the case with the best new artist honors, which the ACM traditionally announces prior to the telecast. For 2020, the trophies are going to Tenille Townes for best new female artist and Riley Green for best new male artist.

Both winners come as upsets, given the heavy hitters in those respective categories. While acclaimed, neither Townes nor Green has yet had a top 10 country radio single, and they were both facing off against competitors with higher media profiles and No. 1 hits.

The two artists will acknowledge their honors and perform when the ACM Awards are broadcast on CBS Sept. 16. The show is traditionally telecast from Las Vegas in the spring, but will be based in Nashville for the first time this year, with a mixture of live and pre-taped performances emanating from venues including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe.

Among the tough competition they faced: Green was up against Morgan Wallen, who is undoubtedly the commercially hottest recent newcomer in country, as well as Jordan Davis, Russell Dickerson and Cody Johnson.

Townes faced Gabby Barrett and Ingrid Andress, both of whom had attention-getting chart toppers this spring, as well as Lindsay Ell and Caylee Hammack. in perhaps the strongest overall lineup that category has seen in years.

Green has had two singles just miss the top 10 — “There Was This Girl,” which peaked out at No. 11, followed by “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” which topped out at No. 12 — but obviously affection among ACM voters runs high. His debut album, “Different ‘Round Here,”  came out via Big Machine in September 2019.

Townes is perhaps even more of a surprise, as her only charting single to date, “Somebody’s Daughter,” barely cracked the top 30. Yet she has been a media darling, critical favorite and is very well-liked in Nashville. Her debut album, “Lemonade Stand,” has just been released by Sony Nashville.

The ACM Awards are unique in dividing up the new artist category into male, female and duo/group categories. The last of those is not being awarded this year because, according to a statement the org made during the first round of voting in January declaring “no eligible artists in this category.”

Green was only up for new artist, but Townes still has another shot at a trophy, as she’s among the multiple nominees for musical event of the year for “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which also featured Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Hammack and Elle King.

“I’ll always remember this feeling, standing here as a new artist,” said Townes. “I feel so honored and incredibly grateful just to be a part of this country music community that inspires me. Receiving this ACM Award feels like belief from that community, and that means so much to me.”

Said Green, “When we had to come off the road back in March, I wasn’t sure what the rest of 2020 would look like. So much has happened in the world since then and I’m really excited to have a moment to play music again.  My grandfathers’ love for Country Music is what led me to this moment and I have to dedicate this award to them. Thank you to everyone who believes in my music enough to let this boy from Alabama get to share his songs like this.”

Green and Townes learned about their honors in surprise calls from Keith Urban, who’ll be hosting the Sept. 16 telecast for the first time.


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