- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

No one was more surprised by Eric Church’s five Country Music Awards nominations than the rising star from North Carolina. He didn’t even know they were happening.

“The funny part of the story is I’ve been on vacation the last week, and I lost my phone in the Gulf of Mexico when I was swimming,” Mr. Church said in a recorded statement. “And I had no clue that even the CMA nominations were today and just laying on an airplane and really unplugged from the world.”

When Mr. Church landed Wednesday morning, he was whisked to his management office in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned the news that not only had he received the first major CMA nominations of his career, but that he’d also broken through in the prestigious album, male vocalist and song of the year categories.

He was followed by married couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, who had four nominations apiece. Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley and Little Big Town have three apiece.

“I think it’s a testament to really fans that believed in the music and loved the music and told people about the music,” Mr. Church said. “Otherwise, we don’t really have the track record to be the most nominated artist at this point in time in our career for the path we’ve taken.”

Taylor Swift will go for her third entertainer of the year award ... more >

Miss Swift, two-time winner, is up for another entertainer of the year award, the CMA’s top honor. She is nominated along with previous winners Mr. Chesney and Brad Paisley and also Mr. Aldean and Mr. Shelton.

And Mr. Church wasn’t the only surprised nominee. Luke Bryan was clearly taken aback when his name popped up among the nominees as he and good friend Mr. Aldean announced the first five categories Wednesday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Previously, Mr. Church and Mr. Bryan received only best new artist nominations. Both made a splash — earning spots on the male vocalist and album of the year lists. They knocked longtime nominee and multiple winner Mr. Paisley off the list of male vocalist nominees, joining Mr. Aldean, Mr. Shelton and Keith Urban.

And they also shook up the album of the year list — Mr. Bryan for “Tailgates & Tanlines” and Mr. Church for “Chief.” Other nominees in that category included Miss Lambert’s “Four the Record,” Mr. Bentley’s “Home” and Lady Antebellum’s “Own the Night.”

“Those are just really, really important categories and … anytime I get nominated and I look at the company that I’m in it’s pretty amazing,” Mr. Bryan said.

Kelly Clarkson broke through in the female vocalist category, joining previous nominees Miss Swift, Miss Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride. It’s Miss Clarkson’s first individual CMA nomination. She and Mr. Aldean won last year for their duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”

Mr. Aldean said it was the surprise nomination of the day.

“I think that she kind of obviously opened up some eyes to some people, and obviously they’re taking notice of that and rewarding her for her contributions to country music over the last year, so I think it’s great,” Mr. Aldean said.

Lady Antebellum will go for their fourth straight vocal group of the year award against Zac Brown Band, the Band Perry, Little Big Town and Eli Young Band.

Mr. Church picked up two more nominations in the single and song of the year categories for his hit “Springsteen.”

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