How the 2020 ACM Awards Will Be Different This Year Amid the Pandemic and Social Injustice Issues (Exclusive)

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The 2020 ACM Awards on Sept. 16 will definitely be one to watch this year. ET recently spoke to Academy of Country Music CEO Damon Whiteside, who talked about how the show will not only find creative ways to deal with safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, but will also address the current political climate.

Keith Urban is hosting the annual awards show this year, which moved from Las Vegas to Nashville, Tennessee, after being postponed due to the pandemic. The show will actually take place at three different iconic country music venues -- the Ryman Auditorium, the Bluebird Cafe as well as the Grand Ole Opry House.

"We have just seen the set designs and they look incredible," Whiteside tells ET's Cassie DiLaura. "They really pay sort of homage to the history of Nashville into these historic venues. So, that's kind of neat to see but there's still, you know, kind of a technology element too that's going to be really cool to still kind of really up the production value of the artist performances because we always want to bring, you know, really cutting-edge production elements to the show as well, but it's going to be quite different."

"It's going to have a much different look and we are at this point, likely not going to have an audience at all," he continues. "So, that's also going to change the look and the feel and the vibe of the show pretty tremendously. Overall though, it's going to be just a really bright, colorful, fun show. There's going to be poignant moments. There's just going to be a really big nod to the history of country music and also just celebrating so many legends from our industry. So, it's got a really good mix, I think, of sort of I'd say, the past, present and future of country music."

Whiteside says the majority of the show will be taped live, and that the artists and performers will be able to safely quarantine safely behind the venues in their tour buses or in safe spaces backstage where they will be able to social distance.

"It's going to be incredibly limited in terms of how many bodies can actually even be in the backstage area or be around artists," he notes. "So, they'll be finding out about awards in real time as we do and as they get read off, and then they will just come from where they're located, and they'll come out onto the stage and they're going to accept. Our goal at this point is to not do any sort of virtual awards giveaways, but really working to do it all live on the stage at the venues."

"We really, really fought hard to find a plan that was going to be safe and we could still keep the integrity ... which I'm really proud to say," he adds of deciding to not cancel the show this year due to the pandemic. "I think we've done it. We've done it even well beyond any of our expectations. Once the show had to be canceled in Las Vegas, we just immediately went into that mode of planning on how we could do it in a way that would keep the artists safe. ... And you know, I'm so proud that we're doing it and it couldn't come at a better time because I think the artists, the industry, the fans -- even though we're not all going to be together in the same room -- we're still going to be celebrating live in the moment and it's just going to be incredibly powerful and I think a little bit of a return to as much normalcy as we can possibly have right now, and I think it'll bring a lot of comfort and happiness to the fans."

Aside from the pandemic being at the forefront of everyone's minds, Whiteside said the show will also acknowledge current issues regarding social injustice.

"It's an opportunity for us to reconnect with our fan base and we're going to address issues like the pandemic, we're going to address issues like social equality and also showcase some of the really amazing African American talent that we have in the country music industry that not enough people know about, as well as just celebrating all the great songs within country that are going to make people feel good," he says.

Whiteside says singer Mickey Guyton's performance will definitely be a highlight of the night.

"[We] certainly also want to show some of the great African American artists that we have, and [who] have had a lot of success in our industry this past year," he says. "So, this to me is exciting because America is going to discover Mickey Guyton that night if they don't know her, and she is going to blow everybody away with her voice and her talent and songwriting abilities. And I am just so excited to see that, and I think it's going to be one of the most talked-about moments in the show that night."

The 2020 ACM Awards will air live from Nashville on Sept. 16, from 8-11 p.m. ET. Aside from Guyton, the all-star lineup of performers this year includes Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Carrie Underwood, Trisha Yearwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Combs, Tim McGraw, Maren Morris, Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett.

ET recently spoke with Guyton and she teased her upcoming ACM Awards performance. She'll be performing her song, "What Are You Gonna Tell Her?" which speaks about injustices faced by young women and people of color.

"It is going to be just such a beautiful, heartfelt performance because again, racism is such a huge pandemic, but also the treatment of women is just as big of a pandemic and it is so important for me to stand on that stage and sing the song that represents," she shared. "There's not a single woman that I don't know that hasn't gone through something, and I just hope that this song, and people hearing me sing it, inspires change that we protect our future daughters. Like, we are adults but what can we do to prevent that from happening to the future? It is up to us, and I hope this song gives everybody that fire within them to help make change for our future and it's going to be just a really beautiful performance."

"It is such an honor because honestly, starting my career off, I never thought of myself as some activist. I was actually always someone that kind of just stayed in the back and just didn't want to make any noise or rock the boat and then everything kind of shifted for me," she adds. "And to step in that role as a woman, as a Black woman, it is such an honor that people are giving me this opportunity to be heard too, and to hopefully incite change. Honestly, it is such an honor. It means the world to me."


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