HOT DISH: Magical Moments at the CMA Awards

Nicole Kidman Stands by Her Man, Taylor Swift Amazes, Sugarland Wins

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

“Stand by your man” is what actress Nicole Kidman did last week in Nashville at the BMI Awards and CMA Awards. The Oscar-winning actress was absolutely stunning as she accompanied her husband, Keith Urban, to both events. Thanks, Nicole.

For those of you at the CMA, thank you for honoring new Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Ralph Emery, Mel Tillis and Vince Gill during Wednesday’s (Nov. 7) CMA Awards broadcast. Membership in the Hall of Fame is the highest honor a country music star can achieve, and the fans deserve to see the winners — and the winners deserve to be seen.

Talking about a hero for a host, James Denton may be a television star in Los Angeles, but in Nashville, he is a huge fan who correctly defined country music as the greatest sound on earth. James correctly introduced George Strait as the real deal. Let’s keep Denton!

Sheryl Crow presented Carrie Underwood the single of the year trophy for “Before He Cheats.” Montgomery Gentry gave the song of the year award to songwriters Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon and Jamey Johnson. Cannon told me Johnson was going through a nasty divorce when they wrote the winning song, “Give It Away,” that Strait recorded. Hence, give all this crap away. No wonder Johnson thanked his ex-wife.

Sara Evans, who was also stunningly beautiful, hosted a segment of the show and brought out Jason Michael Carroll, Bucky Covington and Luke Bryan to present Rascal Flatts with the vocal group prize. I don’t know about you, but I found actress Kate Walsh’s flair as a segment host about as boring as a bagel with no cream cheese.

When Blake Shelton, Jewel and her rodeo man, Ty Murray, announced Sugarland as the duo of the year, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I knew Brooks & Dunn’s winning streak would eventually come to an end, but I wasn’t expecting it this year.

I do love me some Dwight Yoakam. He was so cool in his Manuel clothes as he talked about Porter Wagoner. Dwight was perfect to present the cowboy, King George Strait, and producer Tony Brown with the album of the year award for It Just Comes Natural.

And wasn’t Kimberly Williams-Paisley the most charming segment host ever? I am so proud of her as an actress, a wife, a mother and a friend.

Taylor Swift is amazing. She even remembered to thank Brad Paisley for using her as his opening act in concert this year. Shoot, Taylor even thanked stylist Sandi Spika for making the dress she had on. The Horizon Award was “Taylor-made” this year, but the other nominees were equally talented — Rodney Atkins, Jason Aldean, Kellie Pickler and Little Big Town. I love LBT’s “Boondocks” but do not understand why they were asked to perform a song that’s more than two years old. One of the night’s best performances was Pickler’s self-penned and emotional “I Wonder.”

Did you girls see that Dierks Bentley was the cutest boy on the show? The curls on his once-shaved head are beginning to show up and are looking good. It was Dierks’ chore to present the female vocalist statue to Carrie Underwood, who looked lovely. Teary Carrie made a nice speech thanking God, record label chief Joe Galante, the fans, her parents and radio.

Off-camera before the TV show started, Dobro master Jerry Douglas was named musician of the year, and Tracy Lawrence, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw won the musical event of the year award for “Find Out Who Your Friends Are.” Well, Tracy doesn’t have to wonder who his friends are. Kenny hung out with Tracy during the night, and Tracy cried after winning his first CMA award. Congrats, Tracy.

Brad Paisley and actor-director Jason Alexander won video of the year honors for “Online,” which may be the greatest video ever in history. And Brad was finally named male vocalist of the year after seven misses. The trophy was presented by Gretchen Wilson and Kid Rock.

Reminding me of Reba’s duos with Linda Davis, Reba and LeAnn Rimes sang their tails off. LeAnn did a good job hosting one of the segments, too, and it was Reba who presented Kenny Chesney with his third entertainer of the year trophy. “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,” he said. And Kenny thanked George Strait for picking up the dinner check the night before.

Garth Brooks in Tulsa, Hollywood and Kansas City
When Sam Lovullo called me early one morning last week from the Tulsa airport, I knew he had exciting news — and he did. Sam, who was the longtime producer of Hee Haw, told me that Garth Brooks was presented the Will Rogers Spirit Award during a Nov. 4 gala in Tulsa. The presentation was a highlight of Will Rogers Days, an annual event sponsored by the Will Rogers Rotary Club.

According to Sam, the room was filled to overflowing, and Garth was so gracious. Sam, who hosted the event, said, “I was trying to honor Garth, and Garth turned it around and began talking about me. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and he loves you, Hazel.” I can get teary at 8 a.m. Before Garth left the event in Tulsa, he autographed a program for each person in the jam-packed room.

What those wonderful Okies and Sam did not know is that Garth had the pilot of his jet ready at the airport and flew to Los Angeles later that night to appear on a country radio program. The next day at 9 a.m., Garth was standing beside his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of Capitol Records building where the RIAA recognized him as the highest-selling solo artist of all time. With 123 million units to his credit in the U.S., this places him ahead of Elvis Presley, who stands at 118.5 million. Only the Beatles, with sales of 170 million, are ahead of Garth. At the ceremony, the Academy of Country Music presented Garth its Country Music Crystal Milestone Award, the first ever given to an artist commemorating a specific achievement.

After the presentation in Hollywood, Garth flew to Kansas City, Mo., to kick off a nine-night concert run that has fans and the media singing his praises to high heaven. One 30-year radio veteran who has witnessed hundreds and hundreds of live shows declared Garth’s opening night as the most amazing concert he’d ever seen. Like Sam Lovullo said, “Garth is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and one of the best entertainers.”

About 2 million copies of Garth’s new album, The Ultimate Hits, are in the marketplace — and ol’ Santa is on his way.

Remembering Hank Thompson
This music year has flown by faster than any I remember. We lost some great ones recently — Porter Wagoner and, now, Hank Thompson. Hank died at his Texas home on Tuesday (Nov. 6). Like Porter, he battled lung cancer and, like Porter, worked almost until the end. Hank’s last performance was Oct. 8 in his native Waco, Texas.

Hank will be most remembered for his 1952 smash “The Wild Side of Life.” Kitty Wells had an answer to Hank’s hit with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” which set the pace for female singers to step into the spotlight and sing their original songs. Hank was known for hits like “Six Pack to Go” and “Humpty Dumpty Heart.” Hank tried Nashville for a short time, but it wasn’t for him. Texas dance halls with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys, fit Hank’s music as well as his lifestyle.

Willie Nelson, Jeffrey Steele at BMI Awards
Did you see photos of Willie Nelson when he showed up wearing a black suit, white shirt, black necktie and black hat at the BMI Awards to accept his BMI Icon honor? Kris Kristofferson and his wife, Lisa, traveled from their home in Hawaii to honor his friend, Willie. Kris, Emmylou Harris, Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Josh Turner sang several of Willie’s hits during the awards banquet.

The BMI Awards proved to be songwriter Jeffrey Steele’s night for scoring more honors. He was named BMI’s songwriter of the year for a year of success that includes Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most” (BMI’s song of the year), “My Wish” and “Me and My Gang,” along with Steve Holy’s “Brand New Girlfriend” and Keith Anderson’s “Every Time I Hear Your Name.”

Congratulations to Jeffrey and wonderful Willie.

More Personal Congratulations
When Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s new CD, Raising Sand, sold 112,000 copies in its first week of release to debut at No. 2 on both the country and pop charts, it became the highest single-week sales by any artist in Rounder Records’ history. Congratulations to label chief Ken Irwin and all the movers and shakers at the label.

But in a week of major industry events, the biggest congratulations of all go to Doug and Linda Edell Howard on Thursday’s (Nov. 8) birth of a daughter, Gracelyn Ariel Howard. Doug is senior vice president of A&R at Lyric Street Records.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Japanese Fruit Pie.