With Kenny Chesney grabbing the coveted entertainer of the year award, Carrie Underwood picked up three honors to take home the most trophies Tuesday night (May 15) at the 42nd annual Academy of Country Music Awards show in Las Vegas.
George Strait ’s recording of “Give It Away” won in the single record and song of the year categories, and Brooks & Dunn, who were honored with this year’s humanitarian award, also enjoyed their 14th consecutive win as vocal duo of the year. “Building Bridges,” Brooks & Dunn’s collaboration with Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow, was chosen as vocal event of the year. Others winning awards during the ceremony at the MGM Grand included Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Miranda Lambert and Rodney Atkins.
In addition to being named top female vocalist, Underwood’s debut CD, the quintuple-platinum Some Hearts won in the album of the year category. Her music video for “Before He Cheats” resulted in wins for Underwood, producer Randy Brewer and director Roman White.
In accepting her third award of the evening, Underwood said, “I’d like to thank God for giving me so much that I do not deserve. And I’m crying again, because this is what I do at awards shows, so I’m sorry. … My friends, my family, fans, thank you. God bless you. And, of course, the place that started it all. … I would not be here if it weren’t for American Idol.”
Strait, who has a reputation as a man of few words during public appearances, did offer a comment when presented with the single of the year award.
“First of all, I have to thank the songwriters — Bill Anderson, Jamey Johnson and Buddy Cannon — for writing such a great song for me,” he said. “Tony Brown for producing it. Thank you, fans and radio, for playing it.”
Strait allowed Anderson to do the talking when “Give It Away” won for song of the year.
“Let me just say how much this means to me personally,” the 69-year-old Anderson noted. “I’m old enough to be Carrie Underwood’s grandfather. And for y’all to still let Bill Anderson be a part of the country music business is wonderful.”
Chesney tipped his hat to Strait — and also to the late Keith Whitley — in his acceptance speech for entertainer of the year.
“When I first started playing music, I was in college, and I would go rent all my equipment and put it in the back of a pickup truck,” Chesney recalled. “The only thing I wanted to do was to cut a record as good as Keith Whitley did. I listened to that music over and over again. And then I moved to Nashville and several years later, and I got to go out on the road for a couple of years with my friend and hero, George Strait. … I saw what it was like to really connect with an audience for the first time. I want to thank him for that.”
Whether the competition is stiff or virtually non-existent, Brooks & Dunn still appear to be genuinely shocked when they win an award. Kix Brooks said they weren’t expecting to be named vocal duo of the year again this time around.
“Not this year,” Brooks said. “We won it 13 times. This wasn’t gonna happen. … We still love what we’re doing, and y’all are awesome. Fans out there and radio, thanks for supporting us. It’s still as much fun as it’s ever been. We’re gonna keep doing it.”
In a similar vein, Paisley seemed somewhat amazed — and thankful — that his fans will follow his music from songs as serious as “Whiskey Lullaby” to as silly as his latest single, “Ticks.” Accepting the top male vocalist prize, Paisley told his fans, “I put a song out about two people drinking themselves to death, you buy it. I put a love song out, you buy that. I put a song out about the stupid bugs, you buy that. I really appreciate everything you guys have given me. God bless you.”
Rascal Flatts thanked the usual people — including fans, friends and country radio — in accepting the latest addition to their awards for top vocal group. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild expressed her appreciation for other singers and musicians when she and her three bandmates received the award for top new duo or vocal group.
“We want to say thanks to all the artists that inspire us every day,” Fairchild noted. “We love country music. Thanks to country radio, and to the country fans, you guys gave us a career.”
Atkins and Lambert were the winners in the top new male vocalist and female vocalist categories, respectively.
The three-hour awards show was hosted by Reba McEntire, and Chesney opened the festivities with his recent No. 1, “Beer in Mexico,” complete with a four-piece horn section featuring legendary session musician Jim Horn on saxophone.
Other highlights included Taylor Swift’s performance of her first hit, “Tim McGraw,” mainly because it offered her the opportunity to finally meet the song’s namesake who was sitting on the front row with his wife, Faith Hill. The couple smiled and nodded as the 17-year-old singer-songwriter serenaded McGraw. At the end of the song, Swift said, “Hi, I’m Taylor.” After McGraw gave her a hug, Swift looked into the TV camera, pointed at him and appeared to say, “That’s Tim McGraw.”
Touched by the moment, McEntire said, “That was sweet. If there are any teenage boys out there who want to write a song called ’Reba McEntire’ … I’m just saying.”
Rascal Flatts’ presentation of the inspirational “Leaving Kind” took on an even stronger message when the video screen behind them filled with photos of the students and faculty members who were shot to death recently at Virginia Tech. Likewise, McGraw’s performance of “If You’re Reading This” provided an emotional moment when the video screen behind him dedicated the song to “America’s fallen heroes.”
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Toby Keith’s rendition of “High Maintenance Woman” was accompanied by a bevy of female dancers wearing hot pants, bikini tops with short orange vests and yellow hard hats.
Hill provided the premiere performance of “Lost,” a song she will include as a new track for her greatest hits album that will be released later this year. Big & Rich’s performance featured rhythm & blues singer-songwriter John Legend on “Eternity,” a track from the duo’s CD that arrives in June. And McEntire and Kelly Clarkson offered “Because of You,” one of the collaborations included on McEntire’s upcoming album of duets.
Other performances included Jason Aldean’s “Johnny Cash,” Martina McBride’s “Anyway,” Sugarland’s “Everyday America” and Josh Turner’s “Would You Go With Me.” Several of the winners also performed familiar material, including Atkins’ “These Are My People,” Brooks & Dunn’s “Hillbilly Deluxe,” Gill’s “Sweet Thing,” Lambert’s “Famous in a Small Town,” Little Big Town’s “A Little More You,” Paisley’s “Ticks,” Strait’s “Wrapped” and Underwood’s “Wasted.”