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Monday, September 15, 2008
Lon Helton: "Fishy Flatts Omission?"
Country Aircheck places the daily news updates on their home page for free access, but you need to sign up to see the weekly "Music Edition" archives. That's too bad, because Lon's op-ed this week deserves wide public circulation. Hopefully, popular demand will get him to post it in a public space on his page soon, but meanwhile I want to quote, amplify and second his remarks:
"Judging by the number of calls I received proclaiming it a travesty that Rascal Flatts wasn’t on the final list of nominees for the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award announced last week, one has to be concerned about the integrity and reputation of the CMA Awards. After all, if the industry wonders about the voting process, what kind of doubt is raised in the minds of the fans?
"The bad news is that for many, Flatts have now joined Tim McGraw and Toby Keith as artists who have been either been snubbed, or, worst case, cheated out of recognition they have earned.
"Let me hasten to add that this piece is not about Rascal Flatts’ exclusion, per se. There are certainly a number of other acts who could have made the final cut in any of the categories. And, there’s no one in any of the categories who don’t deserve to be there. However, the trio’s profile, especially as defined by the number of tickets and CDs they sell, makes them the poster child for what many see as an egregious omission. That high profile is also what puts it on fan’s radar and may well have them scratching their scalps, trying to figure out where this industry has its collective head.
"The one thing that can never happen to either the CMA or the ACM is to have the integrity of their awards process in doubt. Perhaps the biggest fear is that the awards themselves will be diminished in stature by what the public perceives as a glaring error. But far more insidious and potentially damaging is the view from many in the industry that the voting process is flawed and skewed to the mega-labels. Some point out that the commonality among McGraw, Keith and the Flatt’s is their stand-alone label affiliation. The inference is that artists in those situations cannot overcome the perceived block-voting believed to be taking place in major label groups.
"In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the Vice Chair of the CMA’s Awards & Recognition Committee, which is headed by Tim DuBois. As such, I can tell you the CMA, along with some CMA board directors, have examined the balloting with the Deloitte & Touche accountants to make sure there were no irregularities. Everything has been done to insure the integrity of the voting process. There are systems in place that kick-out any blanket votes suspected of being “bartered.” If votes for any artist are outside of certain percentage parameters, they are automatically flagged for closer examination. The fact is, anything can happen in a peer voting system.
"All of that said, the exclusion of Tim and Toby in the past and the Flatts this year simply doesn’t pass the “smell test.” While intense examination of the ballots does not produce a smoking gun, the preponderance of evidence seems to suggest there is, at least, something within the process that puts some artists at a distinct disadvantage.
"Finding a solution won’t be easy. The CMA has enlisted the help of a Vanderbilt professor to help scrutinize the process in the past year. The goal is to make sure the procedures and methodologies are as fair and equitable as possible. For all artists."