Jewel, 'N Sync To Share Some Of Country Music's Spotlight

Prestigious CMA Awards also will feature Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton.

NASHVILLE — Pop acts Jewel and 'N Sync will share a stage

with such country stars as Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks and Dolly

Parton at Wednesday's Country Music Association Awards, while revered

honky-tonk veteran George Jones sits out a night that is squarely

aimed at a new generation of country fans — and potential country

fans.

"We didn't create them, but we want to grab them and take advantage of

them," the Country Music Association's executive director, Ed Benson,

said of the circumstances that gave his staff an opening to invite the

pop acts onto the show.

Pop singer/songwriter Jewel, who recorded two duets for country

singer/songwriter Merle Haggard's upcoming album, will perform "That's

the Way Love Goes" with Haggard on the show, to be telecast at 8 p.m.

EDT Wednesday on CBS. It also will be webcast at www.countrycool.com.

Pop vocal group 'N Sync will perform "God Must Have Spent a Little

More Time on You" (RealAudio excerpt)

with Alabama, who are nominated for Vocal Group of the Year. Both

bands had hit versions of the song.

"They provide an interesting contrast, as these two young acts are

performing with two veteran country acts," Benson said.

Meanwhile, the 68-year-old Jones, a member of the Country Music Hall

of Fame who recorded such standards as "She Thinks I Still Care" and

"He Stopped Loving Her Today," refused a spot on the telecast. Jones

was unwilling to perform a shortened version of "Choices," which is

nominated for Single of the Year.

Jones was playing a tape of the song over his car phone for a relative

when he had a near-fatal, alcohol-influenced accident in March. The

song's theme of sin and redemption gained symbolic weight during

Jones' recovery.

"He may be nominated in the same category [as other artists who were

asked to shorten their songs]," Asylum Records president Evelyn

Shriver told the Nashville Tennessean, "but it's not the same

situation. ... [He] has been making country music that has held the

fans ... for [44] years. ... There is something to be said about

somebody who not only survived, but has had such a tremendous comeback

this year."

A clip of the "Choices" video still will be shown immediately before

the presentation of the award. Benson called Jones' decision not to

perform "an artistic judgment," and he said that Single of the Year

nominees had not been asked to perform at previous ceremonies.

"By the time we got around to adding them, not enough time was left

to do entire performances," he said. "Our music directors thought 1:45

[of "Choices"] would allow a verse, chorus and tag to be sung, and

[that] would establish it as a meaningful song."

McGraw, the son of former baseball player Tug McGraw and the husband

of country singer Faith Hill, leads all artists with seven nominations,

including Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Album

of the Year (A Place in the Sun) and Single of the Year

("Please Remember Me") at what are considered country music's most

prestigious awards.

When McGraw rode the groove-laden "Indian Outlaw" to the top of the

country charts in 1994, many pegged him as another Billy Ray

Cyrus — good for a couple of novelty hits but destined for a

quick plunge. Instead, McGraw has become a consistent seller, finding

a commercial balance between bouncy uptempo fare and emotive balladry.

A Place in the Sun debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200

albums chart in May, beating out the soundtrack to "Star Wars: Episode

I — The Phantom Menace."

Hill is nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year, along with Martina

McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Shania Twain and Trisha Yearwood.

The Dixie Chicks, an all-female, genre-defying trio, will be riding a

tidal wave of success into the ceremony at the Opry House. Their

album Fly has been #1 on the Billboard chart for the

past two weeks — the last country act to top the pop chart for

two weeks was Garth Brooks, a year ago — and they stand to

collect a passel of CMA hardware for their previous album, the

multiplatinum Wide Open Spaces.

The only group act nominated for Entertainer of the Year, the Dixie

Chicks will open the broadcast with a performance of "Ready to Run"

(RealAudio excerpt),

a song featured in the recent Julia Roberts movie "Runaway Bride."

While the Dixie Chicks' looks and outrageous fashion sense dominate

much of their press, group co-producer Blake Chancey said earlier

this year that there's substance behind the style.

"Their album cuts had so much meat to them and so much credibility to

them," he said, "that that's what makes you run out and [ask] your

next-door neighbor, 'Have you heard the Dixie Chicks album?' "

Parton will be inducted into the CMA Hall of Fame and perform a song

as part of the ceremony. The Tennessee native rose to national

prominence in the late '60s as a regular on "The Porter Wagoner Show."

Her subsequent successes include self-penned hits such as "Jolene"

and "9 to 5," acting roles in film and TV, and the Dollywood theme

park.

Also to be inducted in the Hall of Fame are the late Conway Twitty,

crooner of such lascivious hits as "I'd Love to Lay You Down," and

late western singer Johnny Bond.

In addition to spotlighting young performers such as the Dixie Chicks,

the show's producers are trimming the number of minutes given to

veteran acts during Hall of Fame inductions and are running splashy

TV commercials featuring a retinue of stylish young dancers.

Benson said the show's new direction is "very intentional. Since its

beginning, [the ceremony's] most significant mission is to broaden

country's audience. Showcasing classic acts is not necessarily part

of that mission."

He said today's core country audience views country as "part of

mainstream entertainment" and doesn't see rigid genre lines separating

rock and country.