The Year in Country 2017: “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” — Promising newcomers rise to the occasion

ABC/Image Group LAIn 2017, as Nashville continued to embrace legendary artists like Garth Brooks, it also made plenty of room for the newcomers.

In fact, three new acts managed to score number-ones with their very first singles, starting in May with Luke Combs’ two-week #1, “Hurricane.” By the end of October, the North Carolina native would be back with another chart-topper, “When It Rains It Pours.”

By August, Midland, an unlikely retro-country trio that included an ex-male model/actor and an MTV Video Music Award-winning director, made it to the top with “Drinkin’ Problem.”

November would find another band at #1, as Brandon Lancaster’s autobiographical “Greatest Love Story” propelled his group LANCO to the pinnacle. That also made Brandon the first artist in more than a decade to go to #1 with a self-penned debut single.

In an era where females routinely struggle to get played on country radio, Kentucky native Carly Pearce didn’t seem to have a problem. Her single “Every Little Thing” not only made it to #1, but went gold as well, proving that her parents did the right thing by letting her forego a traditional high school education and sing at Dollywood instead.

Is success a little sweeter if it takes some time? That proved to be the case for 2011 American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina, who notched her first #1 in May with “Road Less Traveled,” a song co-written with her friend, pop star Meghan Trainor.

By October, Lauren would be back, topping the charts with “What Ifs,” her duet with newcomer Kane Brown.  Lauren and Kane went to junior high school together, and it was Lauren who encouraged him to pursue music. That made Lauren the only woman to have two number-ones in 2017.

Dylan Scott and Maren Morris also made it to the top for the very first time in 2017, both in July:  Dylan with the song he wrote about his wife, “My Girl,” and Maren with her collaboration with Thomas Rhett on “Craving You.”

By CMA Awards time in November, competition for the New Artist of the Year trophy was stiff, with Lauren Alaina and Luke Combs competing against Brett Young and Old Dominion, both of whom also had number-ones this year.

In the end, history will record Jon Pardi as CMA’s most notable New Artist of 2017. The California native started the year with his first #1, “Head Over Boots,” already under his belt.  In January, he hit the road on Dierks Bentley’s What the Hell Tour, with fans routinely showing up early to catch his set before Cole Swindell and Dierks took the stage.

He clinched the Academy of Country Music’s New Male Vocalist trophy in April, scoring two more chart-toppers along the way: “Dirt on My Boots” and “Heartache on the Dance Floor.”

How did it happen for Jon?  As the down-to-earth singer explained, “I stuck to being myself and who I wanted to be, and not changing.”

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