NASHVILLE -- They don't call him Chief for nothing: Eric Church is the top nominee at this year's Academy of Country Music Awards.
The rising country music star has seven nominations for the April 7 awards show in Las Vegas. Hunter Hayes is next with six, followed by Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert at five apiece.
Swift and Lambert are up for the academy's top honour -- entertainer of the year -- with Lambert's husband, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan. Swift is going for her third straight win in that category.
Shelton and Bryan will co-host the broadcast, to air live on CBS from the MGM Grand.
Hayes began an incredible run on the awards show circuit with a nomination for best new artist at the ACMs last year. He didn't win, but has since has been on a streak. He won the Country Music Association's best new artist in November, was tied with Swift as the top-nominated country artist at Sunday's Grammy Awards, where he performed, and now takes centre stage in Las Vegas.
"It's amazing. That puts it in perspective," a groggy Hayes said a few minutes after his manager woke him up with the news. "I'm kind of feeling like I'm part of the family now, especially now, with this. That's such an honour, such a huge compliment."
Church's Chief is up for album of the year along with Swift's Red, Bryan's Tailgates & Tanlines, Carrie Underwood's Blown Away and Little Big Town's Tornado.
Chief, released in 2011, slipped through a loophole and into the category for the second straight year. Academy rules allow an album to be nominated outside its usual qualification period if it did the bulk of its sales during the next opening. The album reached platinum last year and currently sits at more than 1.3 million copies sold.
Church also is up for male vocalist of the year with 2012 winner Shelton, Bryan, Aldean and Toby Keith. Lambert will be going for her fourth straight female vocalist of the year award with Swift, Underwood, Martina McBride and Kacey Musgraves, a newcomer who earned four nominations.
Like Hayes, the idea of family was on Lambert's mind. She wrote Over You with Shelton. It's a song Shelton's late father encouraged him to write about his brother, who died young.
"What an exciting day!" Lambert wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Country music is a family and we're gonna have a big reunion in Las Vegas for the ACM Awards. I'm blessed every day and thrilled to be nominated, and it's extra special to be nominated with Blake for song of the year."
See a complete list of nominees at http://acmcountry.com
-- The Associated Press