CMT Artists of the Year: What You Didn’t See

Some of Country's Biggest Stars Relax and Sing Along During Live Special

If you want to see country music’s biggest superstars go absolutely crazy and adorably fanatical — like giddy school kids — give them several bottles of fine wine and put Lionel Richie in the middle of the room.

Also, throw in Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates’ John Oates, Dwight Yoakam and Alabama for good measure, too.

That was the scene Tuesday night (Dec. 3) during the 2013 CMT Artists of the Year special, where I was lucky enough to be seated right in the thick of it all with CMT Hot 20 Countdown hosts Cody Alan and Alecia Davis.

The room began buzzing when Richie strolled in. He joined Luke Bryan and wife Caroline and Dierks Bentley and his wife Cassidy at their dinner table, prompting hugs, grins and more photo ops than you could imagine.

Let’s face it. Everyone loves Lionel Richie. He loves country music, and we love him for that. But there’s a warmth and joyous spirit about him that consumes a room anytime he appears.

Speaking of commanding a room, every head turned as Faith Hill glided through the ballroom to sit down with her three daughters — all there to support dad Tim McGraw, one of the night’s honorees.

Anyone who’s ever worked with Hill will tell you this kind of thing is an everyday occurrence. She walks into a room, and her beauty and aura just light it up. She can’t help it. Even when she tries to keep the focus on her hubby’s big moment, she can’t help but draw the attention of everyone in the room.

Hill spent some time before the show catching up with Cassadee Pope, who performed with Travis Tritt to honor Jason Aldean. Who knows what they were talking about, but that’s a conversation I’d love to join.

And then to our immediate left sat pretty much the entire cast of the hit ABC series Nashville. Chris Carmack (who plays Will Lexington) and Aubrey Peeples (who plays Layla Grant) arrived first and sat down together. If you’ve been keeping up with their onscreen romance, you may understand why I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Is life imitating art here?” Not likely, but how cute would that be?

Nashville cast members Jonathan Jackson (Avery Barkley), Chip Esten (Deacon Claybourne), and Hayden Panettiere (Juliette Barnes) were all present, too, as Panettiere presented Aldean his trophy for the evening.

I caught up more with Esten at the after-party, where we talked about everything from his songwriting work to the overwhelming love we all share for the Nashville community. Esten is every bit the down-to-earth gentleman he seems to be.

Encore presentations of the CMT Artists of the Year special will air Thursday (Dec. 5) at 8 p.m. ET/PT and Saturday (Dec. 7) at 2 p.m. ET/PT, but you can enjoy complete coverage — including a video stream of the entire show — here at

Samantha is a country radio insider with a deep love for the music and its stars. She can often be found on a red carpet or at a late-night guitar pull.