When Singing News magazine presented their annual Fan Awards this afternoon at the National Quartet Convention, it marked the end of an era. Six notable winning streaks ended, and several categories had winners who had never won a Singing News Fan Award in the past.
In 2021, for the first time in the history of the awards, Singing News opened up voting to anyone with an email address. The only apparent restriction was that individuals were limited to voting once per IP address. I presume the volume of voting was considerably higher than in previous years, and the results seems to bear out that presumption.
Six Winning Streaks Ended
Several categories had become predictable before the change in voting methods.
Kingdom Heirs – Favorite Band (7 years) – The Gaither Vocal Band won in 2021. In fact, the only times the Kingdom Heirs haven’t won Favorite Band in the past 15 years, it’s been the Gaither Vocal Band that won it instead (2011 and 2013). (This category was not offered from 2007 to 2010.)
Mark Trammell – Favorite Baritone (7 years) – Although a couple of streaks for Triumphant ended this year, a new one may be beginning as Scotty Inman won Favorite Baritone in 2021
Kim Collingsworth – Favorite Musician (8 years) – From 1970-1997, every winner of the Favorite Musician award was primarily known for playing piano. From 1998 to 2006, Favorite Musician was split into two categories: Favorite Pianist and Favorite Musician (non-pianist). The two categories were merged again in 2008, and continued to be won by piano players. Just to make the Top Ten playing an instrument other than piano has been rare.
Winning Favorite Musician playing an instrument other than piano had never happened….until Sonya Isaacs did it in 2021. No one playing an instrument other than piano had ever won the Favorite Musician in a year that a pianist didn’t also win a Fan Award….until Sonya Isaacs did it in 2021.
Collingsworth Family – Favorite Mixed Group (9 years) – The Isaacs, fresh off joining the Grand Ole Opry, are the latest Favorite Mixed Group
Eric Bennett – Favorite Bass (12 years) – Paul Harkey of Ernie Haase & Siganture Sound won his first Favorite Bass award
Triumphant Quartet – Favorite Quartet (12 years) – Ernie Haase & Signature Sound reclaimed the Favorite Quartet category which they most recently won in 2006 (in a tie with the Inspirations)
Rodney Griffin – Favorite Songwriter (22 years) – Griffin’s winning streak was the second longest in Singing News Fan Awards history. He lost this year to Bill Gaither.
Two Streaks Extended
Ronnie Booth – Although he retired from traveling with the Booth Brothers earlier this year, Ronnie Booth added one more Favorite Lead award to his collection, extending his streak of wins to 14.
Kim Hopper – Hopper has been the Favorite Soprano since first winning in 1997, extending her winning streak to 25 years, the most in Singing News Fan Awards history.
Hope Bowling won Young Artist and the Bowling Sisters won Favorite New Artist. By design, these two categories always feature a new winner each year.
Aaron & Amanda Crabb won the Favorite Duet category which was introduced to the Fan Awards for the first time in 2021.
Jason Crabb won the Favorite Artist category for the first time.
Paul Harkey won his first Favorite Bass award
The Isaacs won their first Favorite Album award and Sonya Isaacs, as mentioned above, made history winning the Favorite Musician category.
It may sound ridiculous to call Scotty Inman a newcomer, but he is a newcomer to the Favorite Baritone category, his first win (other than as a member of Triumphant Quartet) since being recognized as Favorite Young Artist in 2007.
It’s even more ridiculous to think of Mark Lowry as a newcomer. Lowry won his first Fan Award as an individual.
And to top that, an even bigger shock is that 2021 is the first time Bill Gaither has ever won an individual Fan Award. (To be fair, both Gaither and Lowry do have a few wins as part of the Gaither Vocal Band.)
Allowing non-subscribers to vote in the Singing News Fan Awards was the right move. The awards had become stale and predictable with so many repeat winners. This gives opportunity for new groups to get recognition sooner rather than later. Fans of a new group who aren’t familiar with the genre probably won’t subscribe to Singing News right away, but they’ll vote when given the opportunity. That alone should make long winning streaks more of an exception than a rule.
That being said, I hope the future process will require non-subscribers to register an account with Singing News rather than going with the IP restriction.
There are at least two benefits of requiring registration prior to voting. The number of people who attempt to cheat the system by voting from various locations should be reduced, thereby making the process more refined and fair to everyone. (Obviously, anyone intent on cheating could still register fake names with multiple email addresses, but that’s a little more time consuming than simply voting every time you’re in a location that offers free WiFi.)
The second benefit is that several people who happen to share one computer, tablet, or smartphone could vote individually rather than as a group. Suppose a household consists of a family of four that shares the same internet connection and respects the IP restriction. They can only vote once under the current method even though four people should be allowed to vote separately.
I also hope these results will affect the future editorial direction at Singing News. When Singing News absorbed the subscribers of Back Home (formerly Homecoming) magazine a few years ago, I thought perhaps 25% or so of their future coverage would include artists under that Gaither “umbrella.” In reality, the addition of those subscribers was barely acknowledged for a few months with a section of articles branded “Back Home” and then that went away.
Now it’s clear that their target market for potential growth in subscriptions has weighed in. These people are not buying a subscription currently, but so many of them cared enough to vote that it completely changed the outcome of the Fan Awards.
If Singing News wants to expand their reader base, the next seven covers ought to feature the Isaacs, Mark Lowry, the Gaither Vocal Band, Jason Crabb, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Triumphant, and Jeff & Sheri Easter with additional articles touching base with up-and-coming groups like the Bowling Sisters, Adam & Amanda Crabb, and a few more artists who made it to the Top Five, but didn’t win.
Throwing in a “what’s he up to now” article on Ronnie Booth during that time span seems like a no-brainer as well.