Kenny Chesney accepted his fourth award for entertainer of the year from the Academy of Country Music on Sunday (May 18) in Las Vegas — the first time the ceremony’s highest honor was voted on by fans.
“This one is really extra special because long before I had a hit record, the fans always came to the shows. I want to thank you guys for voting and for being there for me,” Chesney said. After thanking God and business associates, he added, “I want to thank my mom and dad for having sex so many years ago and being responsible for me being up here tonight. But seriously, a lot of great artists and people who mean a lot to this business have stood up here in years past, and I’m honored to be up here for the fourth year in a row. God bless y’all. Thank you so much.”
Brad Paisley collected two awards — for video of the year (“Online”) and male vocalist.
“A singer is nothing without inspiration. I thank my wonderful wife, Kim, who is not here tonight. I probably ought to thank my son for the first time for inspiration,” said Paisley, upon accepting his male vocalist award. “I am so honored to carry the torch another year, and thank God for all the blessings in my life.”
Accepting the top female vocalist award, Carrie Underwood said, “Wow! God is good! God is good! I would like to thank the most wonderful family in the world. I have great parents, great sisters, great family. … There are so many people who have done so many wonderful things for me, and I know I don’t deserve it. But I’ll take it!” Then she quickly added, “Oh, fans! Thank you fans! Duh! Fans got me everything that I have and I owe everything to you, so thank you fans.”
Rascal Flatts won the vocal group award and also received The ACM/The Home Depot Humanitarian Award. Gripping the group trophy, Gary LeVox said, “The fans, thank you so much for coming out every night. Thank you all so very much, seriously. We like to give God all the thanks and all the glory for giving us a stage to stand up and perform on every night. Thank you to Las Vegas for keeping air conditioners on.”
Accepting the Humanitarian Award, Jay DeMarcus said, “We are humbled and honored to receive this tonight, and of all we’ve been given, this is probably one of the most special. We’ve been firm believers that if you get, you give back. … I want to challenge everybody out there to give your blessings back because it will come back to you 100 times over.”
Sugarland’s “Stay” secured two awards. Jennifer Nettles, who wrote the song, burst into tears upon winning the song of the year. At the podium, she declared, “It means so much to me that you guys really relate to this song and that you accept it. Thank you so much to my partner Kristian Bush and to Gail Gelman [manager] for believing in this song before anybody did. Thank you to Luke Lewis and your whole staff at Mercury to have big ones enough, that when we came to you and said, ‘Hey let’s put a song without drums on the radio,’ you said, ‘Sure!’”
Upon accepting the single award, Bush said, “Thanks everybody for believing in a song that’s almost a five-minute acoustic song and making that a hit on the radio. That’s something that wouldn’t have happened without everybody here.”
However, Brooks & Dunn edged out Sugarland for the duo trophy. Ronnie Dunn, who seemed stunned by their win, told the audience, “There’s a little fire in the train now, it’s heated up.” Prior to the telecast, Tracy Lawrence picked up vocal event for “Find Out Who Your Friends Are,” a distinction he shares with Chesney and Tim McGraw.
Although he charted his first country single in 1997, Jack Ingram captured the trophy for top new male artist. On the other side of the spectrum, Lady Antebellum won for top new vocal duo or group, even though their debut album hadn’t even been released when the nominations were announced. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift dedicated her ACM trophy for top new female artist to her mother.
“There are so many people who deserve to be thanked for this, but I am going to thank one,” Swift said. “And that’s a person that used to love to go to lunch with her friends, cook dinner for her family and sleep in her bed every night. She gave that all away and left that all behind to go on the road with her 16-year-old daughter. … Then she was sleeping in rental cars and in airplanes and rental cars with her mouth wide open because she was so tired. And so Mom, thank you so much! I love you! This is for you!”
Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won an ACM Award for album of the year — a surprise to many people in the audience, as well as the star herself.
“I don’t know what to say. I was not expecting this at all. I was right behind Kenny Chesney, and I just don’t feel right taking this,” Lambert said. “But thank you so much to my fans and to the industry for accepting me so much, being a little left of center. I’m a songwriter. I poured my heart and soul into this album. It’s a part of who I am. Thank you for appreciating it. Thank you to my family … and to my boyfriend for supporting me and telling me it’s OK to be who I am.”
Garth Brooks played a medley of his hits before accepting the Crystal Milestone Award from host Reba McEntire, in honor of selling 128 million albums. Also during the ceremony, Paisley and Underwood paid tribute to Eddy Arnold with an understated rendition of “Make the World Go Away,” while Paisley later tipped his hat to Buck Owens in an acceptance speech. Along with the winners, the night’s performers included Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins, Montgomery Gentry, Toby Keith, Kellie Pickler, LeAnn Rimes, George Strait, Keith Urban and Trisha Yearwood.