Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift Win Top Categories at ACM Awards

Trace Adkins, Jamey Johnson, Julianne Hough, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Brad Paisley Are Winners, Too

A youthful wind blew through Las Vegas Sunday night (April 5) as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift won the two most prestigious awards at the 44th annual Academy of Country Music Awards . In a fan-voted category, Underwood was named the ACM’s entertainer of the year, making her the first female to win the title since the Dixie Chicks accepted the honor in 2000. Swift won album of the year honors for Fearless.

Other winners during the event at the MGM Grand included Trace Adkins, Jamey Johnson, Julianne Hough, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Brad Paisley.

Underwood was clearly surprised by her win in the fan-voted entertainer of the year category and was literally at a loss for words during her acceptance speech.

“I’ve had a lot of good moments over the past four years,” she said. “This one takes the cake. … I never thought I’d be nominated, and I never thought I’d win. I don’t know what to say. I’ve got nothing!”

The 26-year-old singer-songwriter was more articulate earlier in the evening when she accepted the trophy for top female vocalist.

“It is my belief that country music makes the world a better place, and I’m so glad to be a part of country music,” Underwood noted. “I feel like I just won American Idol all over again.”

Swift’s win in the top album surprised many, especially since the category included recent projects by ACM favorite George Strait, along with Underwood, Johnson and Montgomery Gentry. She shares the award with her producers, Nathan Chapman and Big Machine Records chief Scott Borchetta.

“I think a lot of people that know me know that if I talk to you for more than five minutes, I’m probably going to write a song about you,” the 19-year-old Swift said during her acceptance speech. “That being said, I’d like to thank all the characters in my songs — Abigail … Stephen and Tim McGraw.”

Awards show host Reba McEntire surprised Swift with the ACM’s Crystal Milestone award to recognize that she’s sold more albums than any other artist this year and has helped country music attract a younger audience.

“I want to thank my band and crew who go all over the world with us,” Swift said. “And to the beautiful fans, to you guys who come out to my shows, I have absolutely fallen in love with you, and I will never forget you — ever.”

Despite his success and string of hits, Trace Adkins has not won many awards, so he also seemed extremely surprised when his recording of “You’re Gonna Miss This” was named single record of the year.

“I have to tell you the truth,” Adkins said. “This song was recorded by a father whose oldest daughter had just gotten married. It was very personal to me, and I didn’t think other people would relate to it the way that I did, so it was put on a greatest hits album as a bonus track.”

Adkins said he never thought it would be a single, but he later got a call from Capitol Nashville chief Mike Dungan, who said the label was going to seek radio airplay for the song.

Adkins recalled, “I said, ’Go ahead. Ain’t nobody gonna play it.’ Glad I’m an idiot.”

Song of the year honors went to “In Color,” an emotional song that put singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson in the public eye.

“I thank these two guys up here — Lee Miller and James Otto — for helping me write this song,” Johnson said. “Thanks to my band, too, for going in on an off day and producing an off record.”

Julianne Hough won in another fan-voted category — top new artist. She was first named top new female vocalist and was in a field with Jake Owen (top new male artist) and the Zac Brown Band (top new vocal duo or group) for the bigger prize.

Hough, a professional dancer who first gained national attention on Dancing With the Stars, apparently had a wardrobe malfunction on her way to the stage to accept her award.

“It’s a good thing my dress ripped because now I have something else to think about,” she said. After acknowledging friends and allies in the music industry, she said, “I can’t thank you guys enough — the fans. You guys are amazing. I would not be here without you, so thank you so much.”

Rascal Flatts won in the top vocal group category, and Sugarland picked up a win as top vocal duo.

“God, what an amazing ride this has been,” Rascal Flatts’ bassist Jay DeMarcus said. “Now I know how Brooks & Dunn feel.”

Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles thanked several record company executives but made it a point to express her appreciation to the duo’s band.

“We’ve never thanked you either, but you rock,” she said. “And if you don’t believe me, come see them. They’ll blow your face off. I love it!”

Nettles’ musical partner Kristian Bush said, “Thank you for dreaming back every time we dream. We appreciate it.”

McEntire also presented Nettles the ACM’s Crystal Milestone award for her achievements as an artist and performer.

One of the other big winners — Brad Paisley — was not present to accept his award as top male vocalist. He was in Nashville, where his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, will soon be delivering their second child.

In accepting the award via satellite, Paisley pointed to Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens, who was sitting with him, and said, “As you can see, we had the baby.”

Paisley had already won video of the year honors for “Waitin’ on a Woman” and a vocal event of the year award for “Start a Band,” his duet with Keith Urban. Those categories were announced in March.

In accepting the male vocalist award, Paisley said, “I really want to thank you for this. I wish I could be there, but I didn’t want to take the chance of missing the birth of our next child. Thank you for understanding.”

In addition to the awards presentations, there was music — and lot of it.

Brooks & Dunn broke the ice by opening the show with their 2005 hit, “Play Something Country.” The older song was an appropriate choice, however, with the ACM’s star power on full display with snippets of major hits performed by four of country’s top acts — Taylor Swift (“Picture to Burn” ), Sugarland (“It Happens”), Carrie Underwood (“All-American Girl” ) and Rascal Flatts (“Me and My Gang” ).

“Now that’s what I call a stimulus package,” McEntire joked.

One of the highlights came when Adkins was joined by the West Point Glee Club to sing “Til the Last Shot’s Fired,” a track from his most recent album. His performance, in support of the Wounded Warrior Project, was introduced by Marine Lt. Andrew Kinard, who was injured in Iraq.

When Jamey Johnson performed “In Color,” the stage was filled with photographs, but he paid a subtle tribute to a departed friend when the camera caught a musician’s road case with Randy Hardison’s name on it. Hardison, a noted drummer, was murdered outside his Nashville-area apartment in 2002.

Famed magician David Copperfield somehow made Swift appear out of nowhere — into an elevator-shaped box that descended from the ceiling. She exited to walk to a grand piano to perform “You’re Not Sorry” with a string section.

Blake Shelton, who was already scheduled to present one of the awards, was added at the last minute as a performer to fill in for Tim McGraw, who canceled his ACM appearance following an apparent dispute with the awards show’s producers during rehearsals on Saturday (April 4). Shelton rose to the occasion by turning in an acoustic version of his latest No. 1 hit, “She Wouldn’t Be Gone.”

John Rich also opted for an acoustic performance of his latest single, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.”

McEntire debuted her new single, “Strange,” and Miranda Lambert also introduced a new song, “Dead Flowers” — not to be confused with the Rolling Stones song of the same title.

Other songs were provided by Kenny Chesney (“Out Last Night”), Heidi Newfield (“Johnny and June” ), Toby Keith (“God Love Her” ), George Strait (“Troubadour” ), Lady Antebellum (“I Run to You” ), Lee Ann Womack (“Solitary Thinking” ), Keith Urban (“Kiss a Girl”), Miley Cyrus (“The Climb” ), Montgomery Gentry (“One in Every Crowd”) and Sugarland (“What I’d Give”).

If any performance of the evening bridged the gap between the old and new, it was Carrie Underwood’s delivery of “I Told You So,” her version of one of Randy Travis’ early hits. Aside from demonstrating the vocal power that earned her the top female vocalist honor, she also proved that great country songs are timeless and can appeal to listeners of all ages.

View photos and other coverage from the ACM Awards.
Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.