Brooks & Dunn, Underwood, Paisley, Chesney Win CMA Awards

Other Winners Include Urban, Rascal Flatts, Scruggs

The 40th annual CMA Awards proved to be a night for Brooks & Dunn to believe in and one Carrie Underwood will never forget. By the time the event ended Monday (Nov. 6) in Nashville, Ronnie Dunn had broken Vince Gill’s CMA record of 18 career wins and Underwood managed to stage an upset by winning the female vocalist of the year honor.

Brad Paisley won the album of year trophy for Time Well Wasted, and his collaboration with Dolly Parton on “When I Get Where I’m Going” was named musical event. Kenny Chesney was voted entertainer of the year, an award he first won in 2004. Other winners included Rascal Flatts (vocal group), Keith Urban (male vocalist) and Randy Scruggs (musician).

Going into Monday’s awards show, Brooks & Dunn had won 15 CMA awards. Picking up their 14th vocal duo of the year prize, their hit, “Believe,” was named single and video of the year. (The video award also went to directors Robert Deaton and George J. Flanigen IV.) The wins brought the duo’s career total to 18, but Dunn’s record actually reached 19 because of co-writing the song of the year, “Believe,” with Craig Wiseman. The song of the year award goes only to the songwriters and publishing companies.

During his acceptance speech for single of the year, Dunn noted that songs with serious themes seem to be making a comeback. “A lot of competition out there … kind of the same theme content.” Wiseman said, “Every now and again as a songwriter, you walk into a room with somebody … and you mumble until midnight, and your co-writer takes those mumblings and puts such talent and finds every angel in that, and a month later you hear a song that is so amazing, you can scarcely believe you even had a part of it.”

As widely predicted, multi-platinum newcomer Underwood walked away with the Horizon Award, but she also reigned as female vocalist in a category that included veterans Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson. Judging from her on-camera reaction when the winner was announced, Hill seemed particularly surprised to hear Underwood’s name called.

In accepting the female vocalist trophy, Underwood said, “Two years ago, I was sitting at home watching these very awards, watching all these other people win and have the best night of their lives. And I have had so many good times and so many wonderful things happen to me this past year. … My band, my family, God … thank you, fans. Everybody that has anything to do with this past year, thank you so much. Oh, my gosh!” In accepting the Horizon Award, she also thanked American Idol, the TV show that helped launch her career.

Commenting on his album of the year win, Paisley thanked his pregnant wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, but he also acknowledged his father for the help he provided early in his career. “My father, who when I was growing up, used to haul gear,” he said. “He was no good at music, but he would haul gear in and out of places. … He has a bad back now, and it’s amazing thing that he did all that for me.”

Prior to the ABC telecast, Paisley dedicated the musical event award to Parton, who sings on “When I Get Where I’m Going.” He noted, “I want to thank her so much for raising the bar on a song. Any time Dolly Parton sings a song, it’s infinitely better in every way. Thank you, Dolly, wherever you are, for being a part of this and giving us another award together.”

Urban, who is undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse at a Nashville rehabilitation center, was not present to accept his third consecutive male vocalist award. However, he forwarded a written acceptance speech which Dunn read.

“I’m pained not being here with you all tonight,” Urban wrote. “My deepest appreciation and thanks goes to the Country Music Association, country radio, country music TV for this award. … To my wife Nicole, I love you. And to my friends and family and to all of the Monkeyville community, for your love and faith, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I’m looking forward to coming home and seeing you all soon. God bless you.”

Chesney, who won entertainer of the year, said, “God’s given me and my band and my crew a lot of great summers and a life of great summers. … I want to thank my band and everybody out on the road. … Everybody that’s been out on the road the last few years, I love y’all, and y’all are part of this.”

Rascal Flatts won its fourth consecutive vocal group award. Lead vocalist Gary LeVox noted, “We’ve had an amazing year and would just like to thank God for giving us a stage to stand on and to perform on every night. … Thanks to the fans for coming out to the shows.”

Country Music Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson was present to induct three new Hall of Fame members — session musician Harold Bradley, ’60s hitmaker Sonny James and George Strait. It’s highly unusual to see a new Hall of Fame inductee perform a song that was a No. 1 hit only a few weeks ago, but that’s what Strait did by singing “Give It Away.” A man of few words, Strait delivered one of his longest acceptance speeches ever.

“Thank you very much, first of all, to the CMA,” he said. “My fans, I can’t tell you. Don’t think I don’t realize why I’m here. Country radio, thank you so much. MCA — my one and only label — thank you, past and present regimes. My friend and producer Tony Brown, my great band, the Ace in the Hole band … [the] crew … sound, lights, transportation, thank you. My friend and manager Erv Woolsey … thank you very much, Erv, for sticking with me all these years. My dad, I love you and I got your message last night. Thank you for sending that. And last but not least, my lovely wife Norma and my son Bubba. Thank you for all your love and support all the years. Thank all of you people. I appreciate it.”

In addition to Strait’s performance, other musical highlights included Brooks & Dunn, who hosted the show from the Gaylord Entertainment Center, opening the night with Gill and Sheryl Crow on “Building Bridges.” Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich’s John Rich unveiled a just-recorded duet, “Come to Bed.” Martina McBride used a large string section to good effect on her new song, “Anyway.” Miranda Lambert relied on a rather tired rock ‘n’ roll device — smashing a guitar — to punctuate the rage to close her song, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” And in her first public performance since a well-publicized divorce case prompted her to leave the Dancing With the Stars competition, Sara Evans delivered an older song, “Real Fine Place to Start.”

Other performers for the evening included Underwood, Paisley, Gill, Hill, Chesney, Sugarland, Alan Jackson, Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, the Wreckers, Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner and Jason Aldean.

View photos from the awards show.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.