As he made his way to the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, McGraw kissed his date for the night, his daughter Maggie, and high-fived several of the show’s nominees and winners.
Including Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, he had several names to thank in his acceptance speech for helping bring “Humble and Kind” to life.
“When we make a footprint as an artist, there’s a lot of people involved in making that footprint,” McGraw said. “And we do it because we hope to move you. We hope to make a little bit of an impact in your life. Thank you for caring a little bit about what we do because we care a whole lot about y’all.”
Underwood accepted the night’s first award for female video of the year for “Smoke Break” wearing a flowing gown that matched the show’s pink and teal motif.
“I like that it’s pink,” she said holding up her belt buckle trophy. “Thank you so much CMT and, of course, [the] incredible fans. Not just my fans but fans of all of these beautiful and handsome people sitting right there. You guys are absolutely amazing.”
Then she said, “Thank you, baby,” and blew a kiss to her husband Mike Fisher who was seated in the show’s VIP section.
Later in the night, she changed into an embellished black jumpsuit and cape to lead a full gospel choir in a powerful performance of her latest single “Church Bells.”
When she won her second belt buckle of the night for CMT performance of the year for “Smoke Break” from her CMT Instant Jam, she was all legs and gold in a figure-hugging, bodycon dress.
“Since this is a performance award,” she said, “I want to thank you guys that have been coming out and supporting country music on tour. … I know I speak for everybody out there in the audience — all of us artists — when I say you guys are the reason that we get to do what we get to do. Thank you guys so much for supporting us in concert.”
The second award of the night went to Chris Stapleton who won breakthrough video of the year for the moving “Fire Away” music video. Under the direction of Tim Mattia, Stapleton came up with concept of the cinematic piece to raise awareness on mental health issues through the organization Campaign to Change Direction.
“Fire Away” stars Lone Survivor actor Ben Foster and The Black List’s Margarita Levieva as a young married couple whose first happy moments quickly turn tragic when the wife takes her own life.
“It was a tough subject matter in the video and it was well worth the end result I think,” Stapleton said in his acceptance speech. “And so thank you so much for this CMT. It means so much. And all the fans out there — I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my family. I really, really appreciate it. Thank you.”
Before Stapleton made his way to the stage, cameras caught his wife Morgane, who co-wrote Underwood’s breakout hit “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” as she wiped her kiss away from her husband’s face.
Little Big Town’s respective better halves also got hugs and kisses when they won their first belt buckle for group/duo of the year for “Girl Crush.”
Karen Fairchild gave Doug the Pug some love onstage when the band accepted its trophy.
“You guys are so much fun,” Fairchild said. “And there’s a dog dressed in a suit that has 1.5 million followers that just took a picture with Luke Bryan and Keith Urban. And we don’t even have that many followers so that’s what makes this show special. God bless y’all. We love you CMT.”
With Pharrell Williams on percussion, Little Big Town closed the show with the performance premiere of “One Dance” from their new album Wanderlust, which lands Friday (June 10) and features Justin Timberlake on “C’mon.”
The night before, Williams and the band performed a stripped down version of “C’mon” on the Grand Ole Opry.
After lighting up the show’s outdoor stage with his latest No. 1 “T-Shirt,” Thomas Rhett won his first belt buckle for male video of the year for “Die a Happy Man.”
Onstage, he thanked his maker for bringing his wife, Lauren, into his life.
“Good grief,” he said. “This is incredible. This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Blake Shelton followed his live collaboration of “Doing It to Country Songs” with the Oak Ridge Boys with a win for the inaugural CMT Social Superstar award. Unlike his Twitter feed, he pretty much kept his acceptance speech clean.
“CMT Social Superstar,” he said, “that’s not what I was going for, but what the hell, I mean, I like to have a few drinks and get on Twitter every now and then, man. I didn’t know you could get paid for that. But damn. See kids? There’s something for y’all to strive for.”
Although his win wasn’t for a video, Shelton did manage to give a shout-out to all the production crews he’s worked with on previous projects.
“I love y’all,” he said. “Thank you to the fans for following me on Twitter! I won! Yes!”
Erin Andrews and J.J. Watt co-hosted the annual event.