A few highlights from 2008, plus a preview of what to look forward to in 2009
By the CountryMusicOnline.net staff


ARTIST DEBUTS: (Also see our "Artists On The Rise" profiles for MORE spotlights!)

Lady Antebellum – One of the hottest new groups in country music hasn’t even been around that long.  Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood formed Lady Antebellum in 2006 and in 2007, they signed on with Capitol Nashville Records.  They released their first single “Love Don’t Live Here” in 2008 and scored their first top 5 hit.  Their debut self-titled album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and also features their current single “Looking For A Good Time."  Lady Antebellum swept the New Artist of the Year category at the CMA Awards this year; And, they also won at the ACM Awards for Best New Vocal Group earlier in the year.  In addition, they are nominated for two awards at the upcoming 2009 GRAMMY's for Best New Artist and Best Country Performance By A Duo or Group with Vocals (for “Love Don’t Live Here”).

Darius Rucker – Darius Rucker made his debut in country music earlier this year with his single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”.  The song reached the top of the charts - and was the first #1 country hit by a solo African American country artist since 1983. Rucker is definitely no newcomer to a career in music though.  Rucker is the grammy-winning lead singer of the popular mainstream group, Hootie & The Blowfish.  Rucker sold over 25 million albums with the group, along with winning several awards and touring around the world.  In 2008, Rucker achieved another one of his dreams when he was invited to perform on the legendary Grand Ole Opry stage.  Rucker’s current single “It Won't Be Like This For Long” is already in the top 20's on country radio.  His debut album from Capitol Records Nashville, Learn To Live was produced by Frank Rogers and was released on September 16, 2008.

Chuck Wicks – Chuck Wicks released his first single, "Stealing Cinderella" in 2007.  The song reached the top 10 on the country charts and gave him an early start with his career.  Starting Now, Wicks’ debut album was released on January 22, 2008.  The album also features his follow-up single “All I Ever Wanted” – which is already a top 20 hit.  In 2008, Wicks was also part of the high profile tour "The Paisley Party" with headliner Brad Paisley.

Ashton Shepherd In September of last year, Ashton Shepherd released her debut single "Takin' Off This Pain" on MCA Nashville Records. On her debut, Shepherd’s name is next to every song except one for the songwriting credits.  Shepherd’s latest single, the title track Sounds So Good was released just in time for all the summer fun this year – and even country music stars like Keith Urban, Sugarland and Miranda Lambert praised this single.  Her entire album was produced by the hit producer, Buddy Cannon and was released on March 4, 2008.

Adam Gregory Adam Gregory grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and signed his first record deal with Sony Canada when he was just 13.  During his time on the label, he scored several top ten hits on Canada’s country charts.  While he was in his teens, he had the opportunity to open shows for several hit artists including Alan Jackson, Keith Urban and Lonestar.  Now 23, Adam is looking to expand the reach of his music even more – bringing it to Nashville and the United States.  His debut single, "Crazy Days" was released last year and reached the top 40 on the country charts in the US (top 5 in Canada).  Gregory's new single, "What It Takes" is at radio now.  His debut album will be released on March 17, 2009.

Julianne Hough – Julianne Hough might be best known for her dancing on Dancing With The Stars, but she's becoming a fast favorite with country music fans everywhere.  Hough released her self-titled debut album on May 20, 2008.  The albums features her debut hit single "That Song In My Head" plus her new single "My Hallelujah Song".  Hough also took part in Brad Paisley's "The Paisley Party" national tour in 2008, and in 2009, she will join George Strait on the road.

Jewel Jewel is new to the country music format, but she is definitely not new to music.  After having success in the folk / pop world, Jewel decided to record her debut country album, Perfectly Clear - which she released on June 3, 2008.  Her first single, "Stronger Woman" reached the top 15 and gave fans a glimpse of what was to come from her.  She followed up with "I Do" (a top 40 hit) and her new single, "Til It Feels Like Cheating" is at radio now.  Perfectly Clear was produced by hit producer and Big & Rich member, John Rich.

Heidi Newfield Heidi Newfield was originally part of the hit trio, Trick Pony, but in 2008, she made her debut as a solo artist.
Her debut single, “Johnny and June” from Curb/Asylum Records was released to radio in March and became a fan favorite, making it to #11 on the country charts.  Newfield is back on the charts again with her new single, "Cry Cry ('Til The Sun Shines)."  Newfield's debut solo album, What Am I Waiting For was released on August 5, 2008. 

Jessica Simpson Jessica Simpson is an artist who has seen a lot of success in the pop world, but has also recently decided to come over to the country genre.  Aside from her singing career, Simpson is also an actress and was part of the reality show, Newlyweds, with her ex-husband Nick Lachey as well as the movie version of the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, where she played Daisy Duke.  Simpson signed a record deal with Columbia Nashville in 2007 to release her debut country album, Do You Know?, which was released on September 9, 2008.  Her first country single, "Come On Over" was quite popular with the fans and reached the top 20 on the country music charts.  Simpson's new single, "Remember That" is at radio now.

Zac Brown Band  The Zac Brown Band is quite the “independent” fairy tale story.  They sold more than 30,000 CDs on their own before they caught the eye of Atlantic Records earlier this year.  Their first major single, “Chicken Fried” took the country scene by storm and gave the Zac Brown Band their first #1 single.  The single has sold over 30,000 downloads on iTunes.  The Zac Brown Band released their Atlantic debut, The Foundation, on November 18, 2008.  Look for them to hit the road again in 2009 as they currently play upwards of 200 dates a year.

James Otto James Otto has been working hard at his music for years, but he is finally getting the recognition he deserves from country radio.  Otto’s first Warner Bros. Record single, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” was named Billboard’s Number 1 Hot Country Song for 2008 – a song found on his debut album, Sunset ManSunset Man debuted in the Top 5 on the Billboard’s Country Albums Charts and remained there during its first six weeks out.

Joey + RoryThe Life of A Song (Sugar Hill Records)
JypsiAlmost My Record (Lyric Street)
Jeremy McComb My Side of Town (Parallel Records)
Carters Chord Carters Chord (Show Dog Nashville)
Randy Houser Anything Goes (Universal South)
Kevin Costner & Modern West Untold Truths (Universal South)
One Flew South Last Of The Good Guys (Decca Records)


Taylor SwiftFearless: 592,304 copies
Sugarland Love on the Inside: 314,000+ copies
Kenny Chesney Lucky Old Sun: 176,000+ copies
George StraitTroubadour: 160,000+ copies
Alan Jackson Good Time: 119,000+ copies
Rascal FlattsGreatest Hits: Volume 1: 90,000 + copies
Julianne HoughJulianne Hough: 67,000 + copies
Jessica Simpson Do You Know?: 65,000+ copies
Darius Rucker Learn To Live: 60,000+ copies
Brad Paisley Play: 53,000 + copies
Jewel Perfectly Clear: 47,000+ copies
Taylor Swift Beautiful Eyes EP(Wal-Mart exclusive): 45,000+ copies
Lady Antebellum Lady Antebellum: 43,000+ copies


• Taylor Swift released her sophomore album, Fearless on November 11, 2008.  Fearless topped the Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart with sales of over 592,000 during the first week making Fearless the largest US debut sales week in 2008 by a female recording artist in all genres.
Fearless was the biggest country digital album debut in the history of the Nielsen’s SoundScan and the 4th biggest digital album to date.
• Swift's first single from Fearless, entitled “Love Story” was a #1 hit single.  Her new single “White Horse” debuted at #13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (all genres) making this her 6th all-genre Billboard Top 20 debut of 2008.  She is now tied for second with Mariah Carey & The Beatles for recording the most Top 20 debuts in a career.  One more will place her in a three-way tie with Janet Jackson and Madonna for first.
• Her self-titled debut CD, released in 2006, has sold over 3.5 million copies to date
• Swift's 4th single from her debut CD, "Picture to Burn" reached #3 on the Billboard Country charts in 2008.  Swift's 5th single, "Should've Said No" was the final single from her debut and it reached the top of the charts.  Swift's performance of "Should've Said No" at the 43rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards is still a fan favorite - as Swift sang while getting drenched under a waterfall near the end of the song.  Swift had mentioned that she wanted to perform under water since she was a young girl.
• Swift is the only female artist ever to have 5 consecutive Top 10 singles from a debut album
• Swift's Wal-Mart exclusive EP, Beautiful Eyes sold more than 45,000 copies its first week out - shooting the album to the top of the Billboard's charts.
• At 17, she became the youngest artist to write and sing a #1 country song on her own (“Our Song” – which spent 6 consecutive weeks at #1)
• In 2008, Swift won an American Music Award for Favorite Female Artist - Country
• At the 56th Annual BMI Awards, she won Song of the Year for “Teardrops On My Guitar”
• She was named Top New Female Vocalist at the ACM Awards
• She also won the 2008 CMT Music Awards Video of the Year and Favorite Video of the Year
• In addition, she was chosen as the "Choice Breakout Artist" for the 2008 Teen Choice Awards
• On MySpace, Swift has surpassed the 120 Million mark for music streams
• Swift is the best-selling country music artist in 2008
Billboard named Swift the Top Country Artist and Hot Country Songwriter of 2008
• Swift is set to headline her first tour in 2009

• Carrie Underwood's 2nd album, Carnival Ride was released late in 2007.  On October 21, 2008, she re-released Carnival Ride at Wal-Mart.  The 2-pack Wal-Mart exclusive included a Christmas CD.  Carnival Ride has sold over 2.5 million copies to date. 
• Underwood has had 4 #1 hits from Carnival Ride –– "So Small," "All-American Girl," "Last Name," and her latest hit "Just a Dream."  All four singles went to #1 - giving Carrie her 8th #1 overall and her 7th consecutive #1 country single.
• Her Chirstmas single, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" reached #2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts this year.
• On May 10, 2008, Underwood was inducted by Garth Brooks as a member of the Grand Ole Opry - making her the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry.
• Early in 2008, Underwood teamed up with Keith Urban for their co-headlining tour Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Carnival Ride tour. 
• Underwood won Female Vocalist of the Year for the 2nd year at the 43rd Annual Country Music Association (ACM) Awards.  She also picked up her 3rd consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year award at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards in November.  Underwood, along with Brad Paisley also co-hosted this years CMA Awards.

• Brad Paisley released his 7th album on November 4, 2008.  The album, Play is mostly an instrumental album - but his fans have responded well to it.
• Paisley teamed up with Keith Urban to record their first duet, a song called "Start a Band" (a top 5 hit for them)
• Besides the duet with Urban, Paisley also recorded duets with Little Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, B.B. King, Brent Mason, Steve Wariner and more for his new album, Play.
Paisley won Male Vocalist of the Year and Music Video of the Year (for "Waitin' on a Woman") at this years CMA Awards.  Paisley, along with Carrie Underwood also co-hosted this years CMA Awards.
He also snagged the award for Top Male Vocalist of the Year at the ACM Awards in May. 
• At this years Grammy Awards, Paisley won the Best Country Instrumental Performance for "Throttleneck; And, at the American Music Awards, Paisley won the award for Favorite Country Male Artist.

• Chesney was named Entertainer of the Year at both the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards
• “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” was a #1 this year from his Billboard Top 200 (all genres) #1 album, Lucky Old Sun which was released on October 14th, 2008
• In June 2008, "Better as a Memory" became Chesney's 14th #1 single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts
• Chesney's 2008 tour The Poets and Pirates Tour kicked off in April 2008.  The tour was largely a stadium venue tour and was sponsored by Corona Extra.
• His 2009 tour, Sun City Carnival is already in the works – and is again being sponsored by Corona Extra

• Strait was honored by the Academy of Country Music with the Artist of the Decade
• He won 2 more CMA Awards (Single of the Year – “I Saw God Today” and Album of the Year –Troubadour) plus 2 for producing –– making him the all-time award leader at the CMA’s with 22
• "I Saw God Today" became Strait's 43rd Billboard Hot Country #1 single and his 56th #1 overall
• Strait released his 3rd Christmas CD, Classic Christmas in October
• His new single “River of Love” (from Troubadour) is at radio now

• Sugarland picked up the award for Duo of the Year at this years CMA Awards... “Stay” was named Song of the Year, also at the CMA Awards
• "Stay" also won the awards for Single of the Year and Song of the Year at the 2008 Academy of Country Music Awards
• “Love,” their current single from Love On The Inside, is at radio now
• Sugarland released their new album, Love On The Inside in July... features the #1 hit single “All I Want To Do” along with “Already Gone.”

• Jamey Johnson had the #1 iTunes country album of 2008 and the #1 country song for “In Color”
• Johnson had the #7 album in all genres on iTunes and the #8 Song (“In Color”) in all genres
• He also received 3 Grammy nominations for the upcoming 2009 Grammy Awards for Best Country Song (“In Color”), Best Country Album (That Lonesome Song) and Best Male Country Vocal Performance (“In Color”)


Joe Don Rooney (of Rascal Flatts) and his wife Tiffany Fallon welcomed their first child, a baby boy, Jagger Donovan Rooney on May 31, 2008.  Joe Don and Tiffany were married on April 23, 2006.

Luke Bryan and his wife Caroline welcomed their first child, a baby boy, Thomas Boyer "Bo" Bryan on March 18, 2008 in Nashville.  Bo was born at 11:34 a.m., weighed in at 6 lbs 14 oz and was 20 inches long. 

Keith Urban and his actress/wife Nicole Kidman welcomed their first child together, a baby girl, Sunday Rose Kidman Urban on July 7, 2008.  Sunday weighed in at  6 pounds, 7 1/2 ounces.

Josh Gracin and his wife Ann Marie welcomed their fourth child, a baby girl, Isabella Sophia Gracin on November 12, 2008 in Nashville.  She joins sisters Briana and Gabby and a brother Landon.

Dierks Bentley and his wife Cassidy Black welcomed their first child, a baby girl, Evalyn Day Bentley on October 4, 2008.  The couple and their daughter live in Nashville, Tennessee with their 2 dogs, Jake and George.


Eric Church and music publisher Katherine Blasingame were married on January 8, 2008, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  Katherine's gown was designed by Melissa Sweet while Eric wore a black Dolce & Gabbana suit.  Their one-of-a-kind rings were designed by jewelry designer Margaret Ellis (“Sex In the City,” “The Devil Wears Prada”).

Jewel and her boyfriend of 10+ years, Ty Murray were married on August 7, 2008 in the Bahamas.  The couple resides in Texas.



Click here to see upcoming 2009 CD releases
Fans can expect new music from Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Emerson Drive and Rodney Atkins.


JoDee Messina and her husband Chris Deffenbaugh are expecting their first child in January.  Messina and Deffenbaugh were married in 2007 in Nashville.

Brad Paisley and his actress/wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley are expecting their second child in April.  Their first child, William Huckleberry Paisley was born on February 22, 2007 in Nashville.


Sound and Speed 2009 – January 9-10, 2009 | Nashville, TN
Sound and Speed Concert — January 9, 2009: 8-11 pm, Sommet Center
Check out their official site at: www.soundandspeed.org/ for more information.

Colgate Country Showdown Final – January 15, 2009 | Nashville, TN (Ryman Auditorium)

51sh Annual Grammy Awards – February 8, 2009 | Staples Center Los Angeles CA | 8pm et/pt CBS
See full list of nominees here: http://www.grammy.com/

43rd Annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards – April 5, 2009 | MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas | 7pm CBS

Canadian Country Music Week & Awards – September 11-14, 2009 | Vancouver


Season 8 of American Idol will premiere on January 13, 2009 on FOX Network.
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