After last year's backlash over Carrie Underwood's loss, the seven-time winner says the honor "was not that fun, to tell you the truth"

By Nancy Kruh
July 29, 2020 06:25 PM
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After winning CMA entertainer of the year a record seven times, Garth Brooks announced Wednesday that he wants his name to be permanently out of contention.

"It's time for somebody else to hold that award," Brooks, 58, said during a virtual press conference.

He's taken home the coveted trophy in 1991, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2016, 2017 and 2019 — but his latest win, he said, was "not that fun, to tell you the truth."

Indeed, his victory created a firestorm on social media, particularly among Carrie Underwood's fans, who anticipated her name would cap what was an entire night dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of women in country music. Eric Church's fans were in a similar uproar, also believing that the country superstar was long overdue for the CMA's highest honor. Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban also were in contention.

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Even Brooks — country's all-time top-selling solo artist — was among those who thought Underwood would win. "I'm expecting to give a standing ovation to Carrie," he said. "I mean, this is her night ... And when they said my name, then I was like, I'm lost here because I don't know what to say."

As he absorbed the backlash after the November awards show, Brooks said, he couldn't shake the sentiment expressed in one of the tweets he read. "It said, 'Hey man, this guy, why doesn't he step down and just [leave] the entertainer for the next generation?' " he recalled.

It's safe to safe his record seven wins may never be broken. Kenny Chesney holds second place, with four wins. Alan Jackson, George Strait and the band Alabama each hold three.

By the end of the year, Brooks said, he was in conversation with CMA staff to "establish some kind of 'entertainer of the year emeritus' kind of thing." He said he was told, however, that "the CMAs can't just create a title and give it to somebody — because they want to treat every artist fairly. I totally get it."

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He said he realized that taking his name out of the running was his only way forward. The timing of his announcement came just two days before the second round of voting begins for the annual awards, so he used the forum to plead with the CMA to remove his name from the list of nominees "if we are lucky enough" to be on it.

In fact, Brooks won't get his wish: According to the CMA, if he makes this first cut — to 15 artists — his name will have to remain on the list of semifinalists.

"The long-standing CMA Awards rules do not allow individuals to remove themselves from the balloting process at any point," according to a statement released Wednesday by the Country Music Association.

Indeed, that allows the possibility Brooks could advance to the finalist list and even win again. His only recourse: simply asking CMA members not to vote for him.

"I'm very grateful for the time that I've got to go [win]," he said, but now, "somebody else needs to hold that."

Brooks admitted he's taking this pre-emptive step with a certain expectation that his work has placed him among this year's strong contenders — and he anticipates his touring plans would also put him in the running over the next two years.

"I do think at this point, with the three years we got left in us — going all the way into summer '22 — I think that we could be very eligible for this," he said. "If that's egotistical, forgive me."

His avid fans know that seven has long been Brooks' lucky number — his birthday is Feb. 7, for starters, and he also named one of his album Sevens — so he said he's satisfied going out on it. And, he said, he would be happy to accept any other CMA award.

"I'm extremely competitive," he said. "I would love to walk away with video [of the year] ... for 'Dive Bar.' I sure would. That would be a fun night. So please make no mistake: I'm very competitive, and these awards mean the world to me."

He also offered a short list of whom he considers worthy contenders for the entertainer award this year: Church, Underwood, Urban and Luke Bryan. "You know, Carrie's [award] might just be a year later," he said, "and it just might be her year this year."

In the wide-ranging press conference, which lasted over an hour, Brooks also made other news:

He revealed the youngest of his three daughters, 24-year-old Allie, contracted COVID-19, and Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, recently had to quarantine themselves because of their contact with her husband, who's a member of their team. "He works with us every day, so that was the possible scare," he said. "So everybody went and got tested. Everybody tested negative, so we were back up and running pretty quick." His daughter, a country artist who performs under the name Allie Colleen, had a mild case and has since recovered. "She's feeling great," Brooks reported.

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In his quest to create entertainment during the COVID-19 quarantine, he said that a virtual-reality experience "is the natural next step ... We've all experienced concerts, if we're lucky, from the audience side, but you experience that from the drummer's point of view? It'll blow your mind ... So that's probably where we're going to turn the page next."

He announced he plans to join the growing list of country artists who've opened food and entertainment venues on downtown Nashville's Lower Broadway. "We're going to do it our own way," he said. "And so it's coming, I would say, probably in the next two years, three years, because when you talk about Broadway, that is 'Friends in Low Places' right there."

Though his current (and currently suspended) stadium tour is set to end in 2022, Brooks once again confirmed he has no plans for a second retirement. "Whatever the next page is, we'll turn it after that," he said. "But I'll tell you exactly what I've told everybody: Once we retired [in 2000] and came out of retirement [in 2016], you're going to have to throw me out now because we're going to be in this until nobody shows up anymore."