No one was more surprised by Eric Church's leading five Country Music Awards nominations than the rising star from North Carolina. He didn't even know they were happening.
"The funny part of the story is I've been on vacation the last week and I lost my phone in the Gulf of Mexico when I was swimming," Church said in a recorded statement. "And I had no clue that even the CMA nominations were today and just laying on an airplane and really unplugged from the world."
When Church landed Wednesday morning, he was whisked to his management office in Nashville, Tenn., where he learned the news that not only had he received the first major CMA nominations of his career, but that he'd also broken through in the prestigious album, male vocalist and song of the year categories.
He was followed by married couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, who had four nominations apiece. Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley and Little Big Town have three apiece.
"I think it's a testament to really fans that believed in the music and loved the music and told people about the music," Church said. "Otherwise we don't really have the track record to be the most nominated artist at this point in time in our career for the path we've taken. I think it's truly because of the fans and because they did something that's really going to be judged as pretty special and pretty unique to get this done."
Two-time winner Swift is up for another entertainer of the year award, the CMA's top honor. She's nominated along with previous winners Chesney and Brad Paisley and also Aldean and Shelton.
And Church wasn't the only surprised nominee. Luke Bryan was clearly taken aback when his name popped up among the nominees as he and good friend Aldean announced the first five categories Wednesday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Previously, Church and Bryan received only best new artist nominations. Both made a splash — earning spots on the male vocalist and album of the year lists. They knocked longtime nominee and multiple winner Paisley off the list of male vocalist nominees, joining Aldean, Shelton and Keith Urban.
And they also shook up the album of the year list — Bryan for "Tailgates & Tanlines" and Church for "Chief." Other nominees in that category included Lambert's "Four the Record," Bentley's "Home" and Lady Antebellum's "Own the Night."
"Those are just really, really important categories and stuff that really anytime I get nominated and I look at the company that I'm in it's pretty amazing," Bryan said.
Kelly Clarkson broke through in the female vocalist category, joining previous nominees Swift, Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride. It's Clarkson's first individual CMA nomination. She and Aldean won musical event last year for their duet "Don't You Wanna Stay."
Aldean said it was the surprise nomination of the day.
"I think that she kind of obviously opened up some eyes to some people and obviously they're taking notice of that and rewarding her for her contributions to country music over the last year, so I think it's great," Aldean said.
Lady Antebellum will go for their fourth straight vocal group of the year award against Zac Brown Band, The Band Perry, Little Big Town and Eli Young Band.
Church picked up two more nominations in the single and song of the year categories for his hit "Springsteen."
Vocal duo nominees include Sugarland, Big & Rich, Thompson Square and Love and Theft and The Civil Wars, which also scored a nomination with Swift for their "Safe & Sound" collaboration on "The Hunger Games" soundtrack.
New artist nominees are Lee Brice, Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes, Love and Theft and Thompson Square.
The 46th annual CMA Awards will air live Nov. 1 on ABC from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Underwood and Paisley will host.
AP writer Alicia Rancilio in New York contributed to this story.
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