Chesney Fans Flameworthy Fires

Kenny Chesney burned brightest at the first-ever, fan-voted CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards in Nashville. The high-energy singer was the only double winner Wednesday (June 12), capturing Flameworthy video of the year and Flameworthy male video of the year for “Young.”

As he accepted the male vocalist honor, Chesney’s fans shouted their support. “I wasn’t really prepared for this,” he admitted. “Every night, I go out on stage and hear the cheers and the crowds like that. They give me one of these every night.”

Toby Keith ’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” was named Flameworthy “lol” (laugh out loud) video of the year, and its director, Michael Salomon, was named Flameworthy video director of the year.

“We worked on this concept together.” Keith said of his funny clip. “He said I want you to play five or six characters in this thing, and everything I come up with, he wouldn’t let me play.”

Broadcast from the packed Gaylord Entertainment Center in downtown Nashville, the freewheeling, somewhat irreverent show was hosted by actress Kathy Najimy — with an opening appearance by her animated alter ego, Peggy Hill of FOX TV’s King of the Hill.

“I cannot get over that they did my hair for free,” Hill marveled as she “walked out” on the arena stage. She reassured artists and fans alike, “You are all very attractive in your own way.” She confessed to fantasizing about going out with “multiple nominee” Toby Keith and treated the audience to a self-composed country phone message.

Najimy also poked fun at Keith and praised country’s mold-breaking women. “The face of country music is changing … in a way that makes it accessible not just to you great fans here in Nashville, but to all kinds of fans all over the world,” she said.

“The thing that I love the most is that in this change, the women of country music are now singing about a strength and an independence that is real and inspiring and smart.”

Martina McBride ’s “Blessed” took Flameworthy female video of the year. She thanked her family, who appear in the clip, then added, “Most of all, I want to thank God for giving me so many blessings and for allowing me to sing this song every night with conviction, knowing that I am so blessed.”

Chely Wright captured the first country music award ever presented for style, the Flameworthy fashion plate video of the year. “We’ve expanded our audience exponentially in the past decade,” she said backstage, “and I think a lot of it has to do with videos. So it is important to be fashionable and stylish, but I have to say it has nothing to do with me. It’s the director getting together with the wardrobe people and the hair and makeup people, and I just sit there like a puppet and do what I’m told.”

In another groundbreaking award category, Tim McGraw ’s “The Cowboy in Me” was named Flameworthy hottest video of the year. McGraw did not attend the show, however.

Final nominations for video of the year, announced near the beginning of the show, also included Brooks & Dunn ’s “Only in America,” Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me,” Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack ’s “Mendocino County Line” and Travis Tritt ’s “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde.” Chesney’s victory was decided by online voting during the show at CMT.com.

Brooks & Dunn captured Flameworthy group/duo of the year for “Only in America.” “We’ll dedicate this to that never-ending, limitless American dream y’all,” Ronnie Dunn said on stage. “We’re the perfect example of two goofballs that just lucked into it.”

Alan Jackson ’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” from last year’s Country Music Association Awards was honored as Flameworthy love your country video of the year. Jackson thanked CMT for the patriotic category, but went on to muse, “I feel like we kinda cheated a little bit on this one, ‘cause we didn’t really make a video for that song. I chose not to do a video for that song because it was such a sensitive subject. … It was the easiest video I ever made, but the hardest performance I ever had to do.”

Much of the evening was given over to mirth and hijinks. To start, Glen Campbell carried a torch into the hall, climbing steps to the stage to light a larger flame for the symbolic opening of the proceedings.

Jackson followed with a performance of “Work in Progress,” his lighthearted ode to the difference between men and women. A gaggle of lucky fans stood in a pit at stage left, clapping and two-stepping in time to the music.

ZZ Top joined Brooks & Dunn — after “Only in America — for “Tush.” The highly amped moment brought the audience — led by Dixie Chick Natalie Maines — out of its seats.

Chesney sported a ZZ Top T-shirt for his performance of “Young,” but at least one audience member held up a sign that said “We want to see Kenny naked,” and Najimy introduced him by saying he had no shoes, no shirt and, “hopefully, no pants.”

At just over two hours, the show also included performances by newly pregnant Sara Evans (“I Keep Looking”); Alison Krauss & Union Station (“Lucky One”); keith urban (a bluegrass version of “Where the Blacktop Ends”); Earl Scruggs (“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”), Keith (“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”) and Travis Tritt (the show-closing “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive”).

Brad Paisley ’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her” was named concept video of the year, and Chris Cagle ’s “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out” earned the always emotional Cagle honors for breakthrough video of the year.

The Dixie Chicks received the first Flameworthy Video Visionary Award, presented by actor Billy Campbell, and later debuted their new video, “Long Time Gone,” on CMT Wrap Party.

“We always do have fun, and it is important to us to try to better ourselves,” singer Natalie Maines said of the Chicks’ videos. “I don’t know how wonderful our videos are, but we try to spend more money and make them better every time.”

Chick Martie Maguire hinted that the group has their eye on a distant horizon. For playing their videos she thanked CMT, VH1 and “hopefully, one day, MTV, if they’re listening.”

Craig Shelburne contributed to this story.