Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler Are Top Winners at CMT Music Awards

Trace Adkins, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, LeAnn Rimes and Brad Paisley Also Take Home Trophies

Taylor Swift passed the newcomer’s torch to Kellie Pickler during the 2008 CMT Music Awards in Nashville. While doing so, the two became multiple winners Monday night (April 14) at the show hosted by Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus.

Other winning artists included Trace Adkins, Rodney Carrington, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Sugarland. Awards also went to Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, along with LeAnn Rimes and Bon Jovi. Michael Salomon was named video director of the year for his work on Adkins’ “I Got My Game On” and Toby Keith’s “High Maintenance Woman” and “Love Me If You Can.”

Pickler’s “I Wonder” won three awards, including the USA Weekend breakthrough video of the year honor. Swift, who went home with two trophies Monday, won last year’s breakthrough video award for “Tim McGraw.”

This year, Swift and video director Trey Fanjoy accepted the biggest prize — the video of the year award — for “Our Song.” It was also named female video of the year.

Pickler’s wins included two new award categories. In addition to “I Wonder” being named tearjerker of the year, her live rendition of the song on the 41st annual CMA Awards show was voted performance of the year. The latter category is devoted to a musical performance on a TV show, series or variety special on a broadcast or major cable network.

Swift expressed excitement in announcing Pickler’s win in the breakthrough video division. Pickler, who was unable to attend the awards show because of a private concert previously scheduled in Scottsdale, Ariz., accepted her first award via satellite.

“Oh, my gosh,” Pickler said. “This is the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life. I’m so excited. I don’t know what to say. Thank you, American Idol. You are the rocket that launched my career.” After thanking her record label, management company, songwriters and video directors, Pickler said, “If I forget to say your name, it’s not because I forgot you. Well, it is because I forgot, but I don’t know what to say right now.”

Swift, who took her first CMT Music Award on the road to show her fans, expressed continued gratitude for her success.

“I want to thank everybody on MySpace — all the people who have made fan sites for me,” she said. “I don’t have a fan club, so you guys have done so much for me. I can’t even believe this right now.”

Adkins’ “I Got My Game On” won in the male video category, but the singer had already played a major role in the awards show during a short film that ran at the beginning of the telecast. With an appearance by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, the film depicts Adkins recalling his participation in The Celebrity Apprentice as he phones Donald Trump in hopes of obtaining the hard-to-score awards show tickets for his daughters.

“I’m a millionaire many times over, and I have great hair,” Trump told him. “What I’m not is a magician.”

The film also featured cameo appearances by Larry the Cable Guy and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama.

As for his win for “I Got My Game On,” Adkins noted, “I’m having a good year. So far, it’s been great. I’d like to thank Michael Salomon and [comedian-actor] Rodney Carrington for letting me do the music on their funny video. … I’ve never felt the support from the fans like I’m feeling it this year. This is voted on by the fans, so I really appreciate it.”

“I Got My Game” also resulted in Carrington’s win in another new category, supporting character of the year.

Rascal Flatts’ “Stand” and “Take Me There” were among the four titles nominated for group video of the year, but “Take Me There” became the winner. Joking about their multiple nominations, band member Jay DeMarcus said, “Everybody knows this is fan-voted, and we love you guys. We’ve got the best in the world. I’m glad we beat that other band in there — Rascal Flatts. They were stiff competition.”

Rimes accepted the collaborative video award for “Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore,” a song she recorded with Bon Jovi on the band’s Lost Highway album.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” she said. “Thank you, thank you so much. I wish Jon [Bon Jovi] was here tonight. I had a lot of fun rolling around with him in bed.” Then addressing her husband, who was in the audience, she added, “Sorry, honey. I love you. You’re hotter.”

Honored as the best video from an artist outside the mainstream of country music, Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and Alison Krauss accepted the Wide Open Country video of the year honor for “Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On),” a song previously recorded by the Everly Brothers. Plant acknowledged feeling somewhat out of place at a country music awards show.

“I’d like to say how peculiar it is to be here,” he said. “It’s a great honor to have made a record in Nashville that sounds so good. We’d like to thank T Bone Burnett, our amazing producer … and the people of Nashville, who have been amazing to us while I’ve been around, anyway. I’d like to thank Don and Phil Everly for getting me through my teenage years with such amazing music. And I’d like to thank Alison for helping me through my late 50s.”

In accepting the duo video award for “Stay,” Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles thanked video director Shaun Silva by saying, “I can’t think of anybody else I would trust more with such a tender song. We appreciate it. Thank you, fans who voted.”

Paisley, who won the comedy of the year trophy for “Online,” provided one of the biggest surprises of the night during his performance of “I’m Still a Guy” when he introduced Hank Williams Jr. to swap verses with him.

Other collaborations included Keith Urban and Brooks & Dunn (on “Raise the Barn”), Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (“I Need You”), Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus (“Ready, Set, Don’t Go”) and Sugarland, Little Big Town and Jake Owen (“Life in a Northern Town”).

Inspired by her music video for “Nothin’ Better to Do,” Rimes and a group of dancers were dressed in prison garb for an intricately choreographed version of the lively song. Swift appeared to give a fashion nod to Shania Twain by wearing a short black dress and boots while brandishing the microphone stand on “Picture to Burn.”

Other performances were provided by Kenny Chesney (“Never Wanted Nothing More”), Alan Jackson (“Good Time”), Toby Keith (“She’s a Hottie”), Rascal Flatts (“Bob That Head”) and Carrie Underwood (“All-American Girl”). Leading up to the commercial breaks, brief performances were offered by newcomers Luke Bryan, Bucky Covington, Lady Antebellum, James Otto, Ashton Shepherd and Chuck Wicks.

In each award category, CMT is donating $5,000 to the winner’s favorite charity as part of CMT One Country, an initiative that celebrates giving back to the community through acts of great kindness, civic participation and volunteerism.

The 2008 CMT Music Awards show took place at The Curb Event Center on the campus of Belmont University.

View photos, a complete list of winners and more from the CMT Music Awards.

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.