TAYLOR SWIFT flew over the audience, BRAD PAISLEY jumped into a giant hot tub, BROOKS & DUNN said goodbye, CARRIE UNDERWOOD set a record, and LADY ANTEBELLUM cleaned up big-time Sunday night at the 45th annual ACM Awards -- held, as usual, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
While big winners Lady Antebellum might be the latest country-to-pop crossover darlings, Sunday night they made it very clear that they haven’t forgotten where they came from. Accepting the award for Best Vocal Group -- one of three trips they made to the podium -- the trio said it was “our honor to be a part of the best genre in the world -- we will never forget this night.” Accepting the award for Single Record of the Year for “Need You Now,” the group said, “We’re living our dream." In addition, they picked up the award for Song of the Year, also for “Need You Now,” and performed their latest single, “American Honey.”
Carrie Underwood jumped up and down with joy when her name was called as Entertainer of the Year, a category that was fan-voted this year. Since Carrie’s entire career began thanks to fans at home voting for her on American Idol, it wasn’t surprising that she picked up this award for the second year in a row. She made sure to thank her fiancé, MIKE FISHER, during her acceptance speech, saying, “I love you so much,” and also thanked “The fans! The fans! The fans!” Carrie is now the only female performer ever to win the ACM Entertainer of the Year award twice. In addition to that win, Carrie also took home a special “Triple Crown” trophy for being one of the few artists ever to win Top Vocalist, Top New Artist and Entertainer of the Year in his or her career.
Carrie also had the honor of opening the show. She performed the CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL classic “Travelin’ Band” with MIRANDA LAMBERT, and they were joined by original Creedence main man JOHN FOGERTY himself, as well and Brad Paisley, who traded guitar licks on the rockin’ performance. Speaking of Miranda, she won Video of the Year, Album of the Year and Top Female Vocalist Sunday night. She was absolutely incredulous over her win for Female Vocalist -- when she arrived at the podium, she exclaimed, “You have got to be kidding me!” Accepting her award for Album of the Year for Revolution, she told the crowd, “This music is what I do. It’s the only thing I live for.” But when she pulled her producer up on stage so he could say a few words, he got cut off for time, drawing boos from the audience.
Other winners included LUKE BRYAN for Top New Artist, BLAKE SHELTON and TRACE ADKINS for Vocal Event of the Year for “Hillbilly Bone,” and Brad Paisley, who accepted his award for Top Male Vocalist soaking wet. That's because right before the award was announced, Brad had performed his hit “Water,” and ended it by falling backwards into a giant hot tub full of actual H2O. When he got to the podium, a dripping Brad told presenter MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, “Can I borrow your shirt? You’re used to not wearing one.” Brad’s Top Male Vocalist win is his fourth, a record.
Speaking of Matthew McConaughey, he was also the winner of the “TMI” Award for sharing the fact that after last year’s ACM Awards, he and his lady went back to their hotel room and conceived their new daughter, VIDA. He said, “That’s a true story, but we’re gonna try and not get so lucky this year. Two [kids are] enough!” Matthew also made reference to last year’s ACM Awards, when he told the crowd how he used to pick up women by telling them he had a pair of GEORGE STRAIT’s boots in his car. Last year, Carrie Underwood joked, “Matthew, I’d like to see those boots,” so this year, Matthew walked onstage carrying a pair. He said, “Carrie, I’ve got those boots...” and handed them to Carrie, who ran up excitedly and took them.
Amazingly, Taylor Swift went home empty-handed last night, but she pulled off one of the evening’s most memorable performances. She began her performance of “Change” while standing in on a silver balcony-like platform in the audience, and as she sang, the balcony lifted into the air and carried her above the audience’s heads. As it set her down in another part of the arena, she ripped off her white dress to reveal a black top and leggings, and ran down the aisle and up onto the stage to finish the song, backed by the University of California San Diego’s 16-voice choir, the TRITONES. She’d invited them to join her for the performance after seeing them sing her song “You Belong with Me” on YouTube. She ended the song by falling backwards into the arms of what we hope were security guards, and being carried away through the audience. Vocally, this was one of Taylor’s strongest live award show performances in recent memory, and she held her final note for what seemed like forever. Take that, critics.
Another memorable moment was what was billed as Brooks & Dunn’s “final ACM performance ever as a duo.” Fans were given the chance to vote on the song KIX and RONNIE would perform: the choices were “My Maria,” “Red Dirt Road” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” Unsurprisingly, “My Maria,” a song Kix & Ronnie didn’t write, won out, but poor Ronnie’s mic cut out for the opening of the tune and nobody could hear him. They topped the performance off by winning the Top Vocal Duo award for the 16th time. Kix told the crowd, “What an amazing 20 years we’ve had, thanks to you,” and joked “Were in therapy with BRETT FAVRE, trying to figure out how to waffle on this.”
Here are some of the other highlights of last night’s show:
--CHER, a Las Vegas headliner at Caesars Palace, made a guest appearance introducing BLAKE SHELTON and earned a standing ovation. She proved her country cred by describing how her mom used to sing with BOB WILLS, and how the first song her mom ever taught her was “Hey, Good Lookin’.”
--REBA MCENTIRE. who hosted for the 12th time, got off a few good jokes: she said RASCAL FLATTS’ hit “Unstoppable” was “Toyota’s theme song,” for example. However, her best moment came when she sang “Keep On Loving You” while pictures of some of country’s longest-running and most famous couples flashed behind her. We saw JOHNNY & JUNE, WAYLON & JESSI, GEORGE & NORMA, ALAN & DENISE, KIX & BARBARA, RONNIE & JANINE, BRAD & KIMBERLY, TIM & FAITH and, of course, Reba and her own hubby, NARVEL BLACKSTOCK.
--TOBY KEITH’s performance of “Cryin’ For Me (Wayman’s Song)” was in memory of his late friend, basketball player and musician WAYMAN TISDALE, who died of cancer. Fans are being asked to download the performance to raise money for the organization Stand Up To Cancer.
--KENNY CHESNEY, who didn’t seem rusty at all despite taking some time off from touring, rocked out with “Ain’t Back Yet.”
--Miranda Lambert’s performance of “The House That Built Me” was very simple – she just stood there and sang it – but it was emotionally devastating. Carrie Underwood’s performance of "Temporary Home" was along similar lines. It drew applause twice in the middle of the song, and ended with a huge shower of flower petals falling over the audience.
--LAURA BELL BUNDY’s performance of “Giddy On Up” felt like a scene from Country: The Musical. It was so heavily choreographed that the former Broadway star was literally panting by the time she was through singing it.
--JACK INGRAM and DIERKS BENTLEY had a great time singing their duet “Barbie Doll,” pulling over a dozen girls onstage to dance along with them.
--ZAC BROWN BAND couldn’t be at the show in person because they’re currently overseas on a USO tour performing for U.S. troops, but we saw plenty of video footage of them in action, singing their hits for servicemen and women.
--DARIUS RUCKER had the honor of closing the show with his upbeat song “Forever Road.”
Other performances included TIM MCGRAW singing “Still,” KEITH URBAN singing “I’m In,” BILLY CURRINGTON singing “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” JASON ALDEAN singing “Crazy Town,” and Blake Shelton and TRACE ADKINS doing “Hillbilly Bone,” with the audience providing the “Yee-haws!”