In Your 30s? It’s Not Too Late to Win a New Artist CMA Award — Just Ask Chris Stapleton, Jimmie Allen & More

When the 2022 Country Music Association Awards are presented in Nashville on Nov. 9, this will be the fifth time in the past eight years that the new artist of the year winner has been in his or her 30s.

Do I have an inside source at the CMA who tipped me to the result? I do not. But all five of this year’s nominees in that category are 30+. The contenders are HARDY, 32; Walker Hayes, 42; Cody Johnson, 35; Parker McCollum, 30; and Lainey Wilson, 30.

And it’s a matter of historical record that four of the last seven winners had reached 30 when they won. Chris Stapleton was 37 when he won in 2015. Jon Pardi was 32 when he won two years later. Ashley McBryde and Jimmie Allen were both 36 when they won in 2019 and 2021, respectively.


This year is only the second time in CMA history that all five nominees for new artist of the year have been 30+. The only other time this happened was in 1988, when the award was still known as the horizon award. Ricky Van Shelton, 36, won the award. The other nominees were K.T. Oslin, 46; Patty Loveless, 31; Sweethearts of the Rodeo; and Highway 101. Both members of Sweethearts of the Rodeo and all four members of Highway 101 had reached 30 when they were nominated.

There is no formula for winning new artist of the year (which was known as the horizon award from 1981, when Terri Gibbs became the inaugural winner, through 2007, when Taylor Swift became the last winner under the old name). The victors have ranged in age from 15 (LeAnn Rimes in 1997) to 43 (Darius Rucker in 2009). But most winners have been in their 20s.

Of the 41 winners of the horizon award/new artist of the year, 34 have been solo artists. Of those, two (Rimes and Swift) were in their teens when they won; 21 were in their 20s; 10 were in their 30s; and one (Rucker) was in his 40s.

Rucker of course was on his second successful career at the time. He had led Hootie & the Blowfish to a series of hit albums and singles. The pop/rock band won the 1995 Grammy Award for best new artist.

As noted, Rimes and Swift are the youngest CMA new artist of the year winners to date. The youngest male solo winners to date are Hunter Hayes, who was 21 when he won a decade ago, and Bryan White, who was 22 when he won in 1996. In addition, the two male members of The Band Perry were in their early 20s when that sibling trio won in 2011. Neil Perry was 21; Reed Perry was 22.

The other youngest female winners to date, besides Rimes and Swift, are Wynonna Judd, who was 20 when The Judds won in 1984; Hillary Scott, who was 22 when Lady A (then Lady Antebellum) won in 2008; Carrie Underwood, who was 23 when she won in 2006; Natalie Maines, who was 23 when The Chicks (then Dixie Chicks) won in 1998; and Alison Krauss, who was 24 when she won in 1995.

The oldest winners to date, besides Rucker, were John Driskell Hopkins and Chris Fryar of Zac Brown Band, who were both 39 when the band won in 2010; Naomi Judd, who was 38 when The Judds won in 1984; and Stapleton, who was 37 when he won in 2015.

All the members of The Chicks, Lady A and The Band Perry were in their 20s when they won. The members of The Judds, Sawyer Brown and Rascal Flatts were in their 20s and 30s. Most members of Zac Brown Band, including Brown, were in their 30s.

Wilson, who as this year’s overall CMA nominations leader is widely expected to win the new artist award, discussed her age, and how long it took for her to break through, in a recent interview with Mikael Wood, pop music critic for The Los Angeles Times.

Asked how it feels to be feted as country music’s hottest new act after grinding it out for more than a decade, Wilson chuckled. “What do they call it? The 11-year overnight sensation?” she said. “There’s definitely been times when I was like, ‘Dang, I wish this would’ve happened sooner.’ But I feel like I’ve got more to say now. I’ve been through more life. I’ve been through more heartbreaks.”

Wilson also told Wood that when she came to town, “They told me if you don’t make it by the time you’re 23 or 24, you need to take your a– back to the house.” After she passed that age and an interviewer would ask how old she was, she’d smile and say, “’Didn’t your mama teach you better than that?’ Now, though, I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m 30 years old,’” she says. “This is the best year of my life, and I’m proud of that.”

Here are all the CMA winners for the horizon award/new artist of the year, with their ages at the time of their victories.

1981: Terri Gibbs, 27

1982: Ricky Skaggs, 28

1983: John Anderson, 28

1984: The Judds (Naomi Judd, 38; Wynonna Judd, 20)

1985: Sawyer Brown (Mark Miller, 26; Bobby Randall, 33; Gregg Hubbard, 25; Jim Scholten, 33; Joe Smyth, 28)  

1986: Randy Travis, 27

1987: Holly Dunn, 30

1988: Ricky Van Shelton, 36

1989: Clint Black: 27

1990: Garth Brooks, 28

1991: Travis Tritt, 28

1992: Suzy Bogguss, 35

1993: Mark Chesnutt, 30

1994: John Michael Montgomery, 29

1995: Alison Krauss, 24

1996: Bryan White, 22

1997: LeAnn Rimes, 15

1998: The Chicks (Natalie Maines, 23; Martie Erwin, 28; Emily Erwin, 26)

1999: Jo Dee Messina, 29

2000: Brad Paisley, 28

2001: Keith Urban, 34

2002: Rascal Flatts (Gary LeVox, 32; Jay DeMarcus, 31; Joe Don Rooney, 27)

2003: Joe Nichols, 26

2004: Gretchen Wilson, 31

2005: Dierks Bentley, 29

2006: Carrie Underwood, 23

2007: Taylor Swift, 17

2008: Lady A (Charles Kelley, 27; Hillary Scott, 22; Dave Haywood, 26)

2009: Darius Rucker, 43

2010: Zac Brown Band (Zac Brown, 32; John Driskell Hopkins, 39; Chris Fryar 39; Clay Cook, 32; Jimmy De Martini, age unknown; Coy Boyles, age unknown)

2011: The Band Perry (Kimberly Perry, 28; Reid Perry, 22; Neil Perry, 21)

2012: Hunter Hayes, 21

2013: Kacey Musgraves, 25

2014: Brett Eldredge, 28

2015: Chris Stapleton, 37

2016: Maren Morris, 26

2017: Jon Pardi, 32

2018: Luke Combs, 28

2019: Ashley McBryde, 36

2020: Morgan Wallen, 27

2021: Jimmie Allen, 36

Paul Grein