CMT honored country music’s female voices at its fifth annual “Next Women of Country” celebration, with surprise guests and powerful performances that held the intrigue of a mostly industry crowd. CMT also revealed nine newcomers to its elite roster, adding nine signed and unsigned female artists: Abby Anderson, Ashley McBryde, Bailey Bryan, Erin Enderlin, Hannah Ellis, Jo Smith, Kalie Shorr, Kassi Ashton and The Sisterhood Band. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry was on-hand to announce CMT’s Next Women Class of 2018.

A number of franchise alumnae attended the event, joining co-hosts RaeLynn and CMT SVP of Music Strategy and Talent Leslie Fram in a show of united support for their female artists. Kelsea Ballerini was also on-hand and surprised to discover she was the recipient of the “Impact Award” for outstanding achievements and contributions to women in the industry. She was bestowed the award by fellow hit songwriter Nicolle Galyon, who will also serve as a mentor to the 2018 class.

“I get asked all the time, ‘where are the girls?’ I just want to say – open your ears. The talent in this room blows my mind! I’m just stoked to be a chick in country music right now, and I’m honored that you think I deserve this award,” Ballerini noted on receiving the Impact Award. “Thank you CMT for having our backs and supporting all of these incredible ladies.”

Perhaps more than any other time in country history, women are forging their own path to success. This sentiment was evident in the room when Kalie Shorr, Kelleigh Bannen and Lindsay Ell kicked off the event with a surprise cover of Taylor Swift’s pop hit “Look What You Made Me Do.” Wowing the crowd with raw performances were signed and unsigned artists Abby Anderson, Ashley McBryde, Bailey Bryan, Carly Pearce, Danielle Bradbery, Hannah Ellis, Jillian Jacqueline, Kassi Ashton, Lauren Alaina, Natalie Stovall, Post Monroe and Runaway June.

“It’s such an honor to not only be a member of CMT’s Next Women of Country, but being asked to co-host and welcome this year’s class with its visionary, Leslie Fram, meant the world to me,” added RaeLynn. “She’s a champion for women in this business and has invested and supported me through the years and I’m grateful. As women, we are always pushing one another forward, so for CMT to continue to shine a light on the heart and soul of the women of our industry is an amazing gift.”

CMT launched its “Next Women of Country” campaign in 2013 as a way to give more attention and airplay to emerging female country artists across all screens. Several Next Women alumnae – Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Cassadee Pope and Kelsea Ballerini included – have achieved both commercial and critical success. In 2015, CMT expanded the franchise to include its first-ever all-female tour with Jana Kramer and Kelsea Ballerini.

To join the conversation, follow along on social media using #CMTNextWomen.

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