This year, Miranda Lambert will be throwing one heck of a birthday party. The country singer turns 27 on November 10 — the same night the Country Music Association hosts its 44th annual awards in Nashville. And the birthday girl just might walk away with a whole mess of shiny gifts: Lambert scored nine nominations, the most ever garnered by a female in a single year.
"It's ridiculous, isn't it?" Lambert says. "It hasn't really sunk in yet."
But there's no question the Texas native's brand of genuine country music has hit home with listeners. Her third CD, 2009's Revolution, was well received by fans and critics alike and recently certified platinum, selling one million copies. Propelled by hits like the nostalgic "The House That Built Me" and current single "Only Prettier," Revolution is a rebellious mix of country rockers and cry-in-your-beer heartbreakers.
It's also up for Album of the Year, the CMA award that excites Lambert the most, despite also being nominated for the all-encompassing Entertainer of the Year.
"I haven't won a CMA before, so to win any one would be awesome. But if I had to pick, it'd be Album, because that's so close to my heart," she says. Still, her inclusion in the prestigious Entertainer category has her reeling. "To be honest, I was like, 'I'm not ready for this.' It's one of those awards you work toward your whole life. To get nominated for that now was a huge shock."
The pleasant jolt was just the latest in an already electrifying year for Lambert. In May, her boyfriend of five years, country heartthrob Blake Shelton, popped the question. She said yes, but the always touring couple have yet to set a date more specific than "next spring." "We're so busy right now that we're trying to find time," says Lambert. "But I have a [wedding] planner and she has done a lot. I hope to just show up. We'll pull up in the buses and hop out!"
While Lambert and Shelton may be slow in scheduling their big day, their relationship is going full speed ahead. The outdoorsy couple often hunt together near their Oklahoma farms and regularly update fans on their personal lives via Twitter. When Shelton was asked to join Nashville's esteemed country institution in September, Lambert Tweeted, "I am engaged to a member of the Grand Ole Opry!" They're a country power couple for the digital age — think George and Tammy, but with social media.
Lambert isn't concerned about living out their relationship in public. "We're really happy, and I want people to know that exists in the entertainment world," she says. "I'm proud of what we have."
Fellow nominee Dierks Bentley is particularly thrilled for his former touring buddy. "I couldn't be more happy for all the success Miranda's having, both on and off the road. There isn't a person who cares more about country music," says Bentley, who in addition to competing with Lambert in the Album of the Year category also shares a nomination with her in Musical Event of the Year for their collaboration "Bad Angel," a tune from his stellar Up on the Ridge record.
"You can hear the honesty in her voice," Bentley says of the song, which also features Jamey Johnson. "I love all of Miranda's records, but I swear, I don't think she's ever sounded better than she does on 'Bad Angel.'" Lambert was overjoyed with the finished product. "When I heard it the first time, I called Dierks and thanked him for asking me," she says. "It's cool to get to collaborate with your friends."
And Lambert will get to do so again at the CMA Awards. She and Sheryl Crow are set to perform Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter," which the duo recorded — with Lynn — for a new tribute CD.
It won't be the first time Lambert has made another artist's song her own. As a first-season contestant on the now defunct Nashville Star, Lambert interpreted hits by Merle Haggard and Keith Urban before finishing third in the talent contest.
"It's the reason I'm here," she says. "I was playing in bars for two and a half years before I got on Nashville Star. Without it, it would have taken me another 10 years to get in front of the people I needed to. You can't just walk into any building in Nashville and tell somebody you have something special."
Well, maybe now she could. Especially if she takes home one of the night's big prizes.
"I'm thankful for the nine nominations. The Country Music Association has been around for so long and it's so cool to know that you're part of something that your heroes — Merle, Loretta, the people who founded country music — were a part of. And now you're up there on the same stage," Lambert says, awestruck. "It's a huge deal."
The 44th Annual CMA Awards air tonight at 8/7c on ABC. Are you watching? Tell us here