Country Radio Seminar has nominated nine young artists as the genre’s top freshmen of 2019, with voting now open to radio pros to whittle the list down to five for the New Faces showcases that’s set to cap the annual gathering in Nashville Feb. 21.
The nine nominees for New Faces status at Country Radio Seminar 2020 are Ingrid Andress, Morgan Evans, Riley Green, Hardy, Ryan Hurd, Tyler Rich, Runaway June, Matt Stell and Mitchell Tenpenny. Voting is open through Friday to select the five who’ll perform at the three-day confab’s closing dinner.
The nods for Andress and the trio Runaway June are particularly important as the country format faces perpetual charges, year after year, of a lack of female faces, old or new.
Nearly every country artist with any career longevity counts being voted onto the New Faces showcase as a rite of passage, or a milestone on the level of getting a best new artist nomination at the CMAs or ACMs. Longtime participants still talk about the New Faces show in 1994 that included then-newcomers Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (the latter two future marrieds meeting almost for the first time). The class of 2019 was comprised of Dylan Scott, Jimmie Allen, Russell Dickerson, Lindsay Ell and LANCO. In 2018, the crop included Lauren Alaina, Midland, Carly Pearce, Michael Ray and the singer who’s considered the newest superstar of the genre, Luke Combs.
In a positive sign for female representation in a format that’s largely been parched of it, both Runaway June and Ingrid Andress have been racking up radio adds. In the Country Aircheck weekly adds list that came out Tuesday, Runaway June’s “Head Over Heels” was fourth most-added, getting spins on 14 additional stations for a total of 58. Andress’ “More Hearts Than Mine” only added three stations, but she has a total of 144 in her column for the song to date. Both artists got an additional boost by appearing on the CMA Awards last week as part of a medley of young female artists singing “Girl Crush.”
A shoo-in for one of the five New Faces slots is Mitchell Tenpenny, whose first single, “Drunk Me,” made it to No. 1 and has been certified double platinum. Tenpenny was nominated for new male artist of the year at the 2019 ACM Awards and for breakthrough video of the year at the CMT Music Awards. He’s racked up 540 million on-demand streams.
Riley Green also made it to No. 1 with the single “There Was This Girl” and has accumulated 300 million artist streams.
Tyler Rich hasn’t made as many in-roads at mainstream country radio yet but has gone to No. 1 on SiriusXM’s The Highway with “The Difference.”
Two of the nominees are married to singers who previously made it into the New Faces ranks. Australian singer Morgan Evans, who’s married to Kelsea Ballerini, made it to No. 3 on the U.S. airplay charts with “Kiss Somebody.” Ryan Hurd, whose wife is Maren Morris, hasn’t yet released a full album but is currently having his first success at country radio with the top 25 and bulleted “To a T.”
Hurd and Hardy have in common that they found their initial success as songwriters. Hurd’s hits as a tunesmith include No. 1 songs for Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton. Hardy, also known by his full name of Michael Hardy, recently released a debut single, “Rednecker,” but is perhaps better known as a writing partner for Florida Georgia Line, and for Blake Shelton’s massive 2019 single “God’s Country,” which won him a BMI Award last week.
Matt Stell earned a gold record for his first single, “Prayed for You,” which went to No. 1 at country radio this year.
Currently on the Country Aircheck charts, Andress sits highest of all the CRS New Faces nominees, with her single “More Hearts Than Mine” at No. 20, followed by Hurd on the rise at No. 24 with “To a T.” Green is also bulleted at No. 27 with a new song, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” the follow-up to his prior charttopper.
Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” made it into the Country Aircheck/Mediabase top five last year, the first such entry for a female trio since the Dixie Chicks in 2003.