If you can’t wait for the 2016 CMT Artists of the Year special to premiere Thursday (Oct. 20) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, we’ve got a preview of just a few highlights from the celebration with Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Florida Georgia Line, Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Bryan, Shania Twain and Thomas Rhett.
Taped Wednesday night at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Twain received the biggest honor of the evening — CMT Artist of a Lifetime presented by RAM Trucks. Ballerini was joined by two powerhouse vocalists from the worlds of pop and R&B — Meghan Trainor and Jill Scott to honor Twain in a medley of “Still the One,” “Any Man of Mine” and “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.”
Accepting her award through tears, Twain spoke of her lifelong love affair with music and dogs, thanking the industry for picking up where her mother left off and setting the stage for her meteoric rise and continued influence across all of music.
After notching three back-to-back No. 1 singles, Ballerini received the second-ever Breakout Artist of the Year honor and delivered an ethereal rendition of “Peter Pan” while Twain and Underwood sang along in the audience. Referring to her as his “baby sister,” Arsenio Hall presented Ballerini her award with his signature fist pumps. In an emotional speech, she gushes as she spots Twain in the audience and dedicates the award to her grandfather, who passed away earlier Wednesday.
Rhett swapped lyrics with international pop star Zara Larsson for a mashup of his crossover hit “Die a Happy Man” followed by her breakout hit “Never Forget You.” In his first CMT Artists of the Year acceptance speech, Rhett thanked Florida Georgia Line and Bryan for their influence and support and for paving the way for him to do something “kind of weird and different.”
Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley kicked off the show with their current Top 10 hit, “May We All,” and accepted the award from Nashville’s Charles Esten.
Stapleton captivated the crowd with a performance of “Whiskey and You.” As he accepted the honor, he recalled being on the same stage two years earlier performing fellow honoree Luke Bryan’s hit “Drink a Beer.”
Underwood delivered a heart-warming performance of “Like I’ll Never Love You Again” backed by the Love Junkies, a trio featuring the song’s co-writers Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose.
The seventh annual CMT Artists of the Year special will also air Thursday (11 p.m. ET/PT), Friday (9:30 a.m. ET/PT), Saturday (6 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. ET/PT) and Sunday (12 p.m. ET/PT).