Taylor Swift Claims Entertainer of the Year Prize at CMA Awards

Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker Also Rack Up Significant Wins

Taylor Swift was the big winner at Wednesday night’s (Nov. 11) CMA Awards at Nashville’s Sommet Center, although Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker made major news, too.

In addition to nabbing the coveted entertainer of the year trophy, Swift won the female vocalist award and also claimed album of the year honors for Fearless and the video of the year award for “Love Story.”

Lady Antebellum’s “I Run to You” was named single of the year, and the trio also ended Rascal Flatts’ six-year reign as vocal group of the year.

Rucker, who embarked on a solo career after multi-platinum success as lead vocalist for Hootie & the Blowfish, won the CMA’s new artist award. In doing so, he not only solidified his mainstream country career, he also became the first black artist to win the CMA’s new artist award or, as it was once named, the Horizon Award.

Brad Paisley, who co-hosted the awards show with Carrie Underwood, won two awards, including the male vocalist prize. His collaboration with Keith Urban on “Start a Band” was named musical event of the year.

Swift’s acceptance speeches ranged from the humorous to the heartfelt. During her comments after her female vocalist win, she said, “I want to thank Reba McEntire and Faith Hill for being themselves.” Adding a reference to her encounter with Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards, she noted, “And I want to thank everybody in the room tonight for not running up on the stage during my speech.”

Regarding the album of the year victory for Fearless, she said, “This album is my diary, and so to all the people who voted for me for this, thank you for saying that you like my diary. That’s the nicest thing, the nicest compliment.”

At age 19, Swift is the youngest person ever named the CMA’s entertainer of the year.

“In this moment, everything that I have ever wanted just happened to me,” she said before inviting her touring band to the stage — and identifying each of them by name.

“They’ve been with me every single night this year,” she said. “And the fans who come to the show with the shirts you’ve made for yourself and the look on your face, that’s why I do this. Thank you for this moment.”

Lady Antebellum’s debut album contained a string of hits, but they seemed especially surprised when their name was announced in the vocal group category. Referring to three of the other nominees, vocalist Charles Kelley said, “Rascal Flatts, you’ve inspired us for such a long time. The Eagles, my gosh. … Zac Brown has had the biggest year of all of us.”

Rucker also appeared to be genuinely shocked at being named new artist of the year. He thanked members of his management team, but had special words for Capitol Nashville chief Mike Dungan, who signed him to his country recording contract.

“Everybody told you you were crazy,” he said. “They told you were crazy, [that] this wouldn’t work. Mike Dungan, thank you. God, thank you. To the fans, thank y’all for accepting me. And most importantly, to country radio, you took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, S.C., and God bless y’all for that.”

And if anyone thought CMA voters might take Brooks & Dunn’s impending retirement into consideration in the vocal duo category, that didn’t happen. Sugarland won it for the third consecutive time.

“Well, we don’t usually expect this, but we definitely didn’t this year,” Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles said.

She invited Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn to come to the stage to address the audience, but they declined the offer. She then told them, “Thank you for what you’ve done for us. Thank you for what you’ve done for country music. It’s an honor to be in your category.”

Song of the year honors went to “In Color,” the Jamey Johnson hit he co-wrote with Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto. Johnson previously won a CMA song of the year award for co-writing the George Strait hit, “Give It Away.”

“I never thought y’all would even let me come to stuff like this,” Johnson said. “Thanks again, ya’ll. This has been an unbelievable experience. Thank you for listening to my music and letting me do what I do.”

Mac McAnally, a frequent sideman to Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, was named musician of the year during an announcement prior to ABC’s CMA Awards telecast from the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville.

Swift opened the show with some writhing onstage as she sang “Forever and Always,” but the true performance highlights of the night were a series of interesting collaborations, especially the hardcore country of Johnson and Kid Rock singing “Between Jennings and Jones.” Another moment to remember was Martina McBride’s tribute to Barbara Mandrell, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year along with Roy Clark and session musician Charlie McCoy. With McCoy providing his signature harmonica sounds, McBride sang one of Mandrell’s biggest hits, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” And while George Jones sang a few lines near the close of Mandrell’s 1981 recording, McBride surprised the crowd by inviting a different George — George Strait — to sing the part.

Rock and country also melded during Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews’ performance of “I’m Alive” and when ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons provided his guitar crunch to Brooks & Dunn’s “Honky Tonk Stomp.” Vince Gill joined Daughtry on “Tennessee Line,” a collaboration featured on the rock band’s latest album.

The Zac Brown Band was moving at breakneck speed during a fiery version of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Other performances were provided by Rucker (“Alright” ), Paisley (“Welcome to the Future” ), Strait (“Twang”), Lady Antebellum (“Need You Now” ), Underwood (“Cowboy Casanova” ), Sugarland (“Keep You” ) and Urban (’Til Summer Comes Around”). The performances also included Miranda Lambert (“White Liar” ), Tim McGraw (“Southern Voice” ), Jason Aldean (“Big Green Tractor” ), Reba McEntire (“Consider Me Gone” ) and Billy Currington (“People Are Crazy” ).

View photos from the CMA 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.