Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney snagged two trophies each and Sugarland broke Brooks & Dunn’s winning streak during the 41st annual CMA Awards show on Wednesday night (Nov. 7) in Nashville.
Taylor Swift, who celebrates her 18th birthday next month, received this year’s Horizon Award for career development. CMA trophies also went to George Strait, Rascal Flatts, Jerry Douglas and Tracy Lawrence, among others, during a night of performances that included many of country music’s biggest stars, along with the Eagles and actor-musician Jamie Foxx.
Underwood, who launched her career on American Idol, celebrated her second consecutive victory as female vocalist and also shared single of the year honors with producer Mark Bright for “Before He Cheats.”
“God has blessed me with so many wonderful things in my life, and I will spend my entire life trying to figure out why,” she said in accepting the female vocalist award. “If you had told me a few years ago I would have been nominated with the people that I’ve been nominated with, I would have called you absolutely insane. … All the ladies that were nominated, it’s a testament to country music and all the great people and the great fans we have.”
Nominated seven times for the male vocalist honor, Paisley’s scored his first win in the category. He and video director Jason Alexander won in the music video competition for the humorous “Online.” Alexander, famous for his role on TV’s Seinfeld, also portrays Paisley in the humorous video that also features Kellie Pickler and Taylor Swift.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me to win this,” Paisley said of the male vocalist award. “I’ve always wanted to win this award at least once. This will do. It’s unbelievable to me to be in the company that I’m in with these fantastic men. … I want to thank my father who carried amplifiers and ran sound even when he didn’t know what he was doing. I want to thank my band, my crew … and more importantly, God, for giving me the chance to share this with the most incredible fans. You guys are the best fans in the world. You know it. You are loyal. God bless you guys for being here tonight.”
Chesney’s relentless touring during the summer months and his ability to fill NFL stadiums resulted in his third win as entertainer of the year. He and longtime friends Tracy Lawrence and Tim McGraw were awarded the musical event of the year prize for “Find Out Who Your Friends,” a track from Lawrence’s album, For the Love. It was Lawrence’s first CMA win.
“I can’t believe that I get to stand on the stages I stand on every summer and get to sing the songs that I sing,” Chesney said in accepting the entertainer award. “I want to thank George Strait for paying for dinner last night. My band, my crew … my mom’s with me tonight and I want to thank her for coming … for everybody who made this happen. I love country music, and I love doing what I do. I want to thank the fans and country radio and everybody.”
Sugarland’s win ended Brooks & Dunn’s six-year reign as vocal duo of the year. Brooks & Dunn had dominated the category for all but one year since 1992. Montgomery Gentry won in 2000. If anyone seemed to be genuinely surprised to hear their name called Wednesday night, it was Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush.
“If we’re standing up here and we have this lofty view … it’s because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, those people who have come before us,” Nettles told the crowd. Brooks & Dunn, they always rock it out, and they are so deserving.” However, she added, “We are happy to be receiving this.”
Swift highlighted a remarkable year by receiving the Horizon Award, the same honor that went to Underwood in 2006.
“I can’t even believe that this is real,” she told the crowd. “I want to thank God … and my family for moving to Nashville so that I could do this. I want to thank country radio. I’ll never forget the chance you took on me. … Brad Paisley, thank you for letting me tour with you. … And the fans, you have changed my life. I can’t even believe this. This is definitely the highlight of my senior year.”
In accepting their fifth consecutive award in the vocal group category, the members Rascal Flatts thanked fans, with lead vocalist Gary LeVox adding, “Country radio, thank you so much for being our mouthpiece. What we do means nothing if it never gets played and no one gets to hear it.”
Strait and producer Tony Brown shared the album of the year win for Strait’s It Just Comes Natural.
“Of the awards that I was nominated [for], this is really the one I was hoping I could come up here for tonight,” Strait said. “It’s such a group effort to make an album — from the engineers to the songwriters to the musicians. Long live the critters. … To everybody, the record label, to radio and you fans, of course. My family, I love y’all.”
“Give It Away,” the single that opens Strait’s album, brought song of the year honors to three songwriters — Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson and Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson.
“Thank you,” Anderson said. “Y’all have been letting me do this for 50 years and I love you.”
Johnson offered one of the most down-to-earth moments of the entire evening when he said, “I want to thank my ex-wife, Amy, for being such a good mother to my kids. She surely deserves half of this song and half of this award, too. She’s a good woman.”
Dobro player Jerry Douglas, a solo artist who also works with Alison Krauss & Union Station, received his third trophy for musician of the year.
The inclusion of a short segment honoring this year’s Country Music Hall of Fame inductees was a pleasant surprise during the three-hour show. Officials of the Country Music Association said several weeks ago that there were no plans to acknowledge the Hall of Fame’s newest inductees — radio and TV veteran Ralph Emery and singer-songwriters Vince Gill and Mel Tillis. The CMA and producers of the show should be commended for avoiding the oversight, especially since this marked the first year the actual Hall of Fame inductions were not included in the awards show.
The musical performances represented country’s complex and diverse sounds.
Rascal Flatts opened the show with the title track from their latest album, Still Feels Good, and were joined later in the evening by Jamie Foxx on “She Goes All the Way,” a slower song from the same album. Foxx, who was once LeVox’s roommate in California, appears on Rascal Flatts’ album.
The Eagles made their first appearance on the CMA Awards and received a strong reception for the live version of the single, “How Long,” which is currently in the Top 20 on the Billboard country chart.
Paisley added some levity to the program by inviting the Brentwood High School marching band from nearby Brentwood, Tenn., during his performance of “Online.” LeAnn Rimes teamed with Reba McEntire for “When You Love Someone Like That,” a track from the recent album, Reba Duets. Alison Krauss was backed by her Union Station band and Douglas on “Simple Love.”
Kellie Pickler’s emotions overcame her as she broke down crying at the end of “I Wonder,” an autobiographical song about her mother who abandoned her when she was an infant.
Several of the award winners performed, including Strait (“How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”), Swift (“Our Song”), Sugarland (“Stay”) and Underwood (“So Small”). Other performances were provided by Miranda Lambert (“Gunpowder & Lead”), Big & Rich (“Loud”), Rodney Atkins (“These Are My People),” Brooks & Dunn (“God Must Be Busy”), Jason Aldean (“Johnny Cash”), Martina McBride (“For These Times”), Keith Urban (“Everybody”), Little Big Town (“Boondocks”), Kenny Chesney (“Don’t Blink”) and Josh Turner (“Firecracker”).
Segment hosts for the show included Rimes, Sara Evans, actor James Denton and actresses Kate Walsh and Kimberly Williams-Paisley. No doubt many in the awards show crowd at the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville were hoping to get a glance of another actress — Nicole Kidman — who attended the event with husband Keith Urban.