OFFSTAGE: Rascal Flatts, Oprah and Tom Cruise

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

I was there. Jesus was not. There was speculation before Tuesday night’s (May 17) taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show that He might show up. The lineup of big shots was that big. And they were all allegedly kept secret from Winfrey. But for me, the best surprise of the night came when Tom Cruise and his wife Katie Holmes introduced Rascal Flatts to a genuinely surprised Winfrey. “You never let go of us, your viewers, and we will never let go of you,” Holmes said. They did their current single, “I Won’t Let Go,” and I swear Gary LeVox sounded better than ever. Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus, too. And the other four musicians in their backing band, too. It was great to see the full band serenading Winfrey, who was singing along. The 13,000 fans who packed Chicago’s United Center were singing along, too, right until the very end of the first show when all the guests from that episode (Madonna, Tom Hanks, Dakota Fanning, Beyoncé, Diane Sawyer, Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle and more) joined hands behind the band. It didn’t make me pull out the box of Kleenex left on every chair in the place, but it was still very moving. That episode airs Monday (May 23).

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.