Behind the Scenes at CMT Artists of the Year

Stars Mingling, Dancing in Their Seats Was Just Part of the Off-Camera Action

If you missed Thursday’s (Oct. 20) premiere of the 2016 CMT Artists of the Year special, it’s one heck of a show.

Fortunately, you can catch re-airings throughout the weekend and view the entire show online here at

In addition to what was captured onscreen, there was a lot of excitement within the audience, too. But fear not: I’ve got a wrap-up of the greatest moments during Wednesday night’s taping at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville.

Moments before the show started, guests rushed to their seats, where they enjoyed red and white wine and cocktails during the evening.

Breakout Artist of the Year Kelsea Ballerini caught up with Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman as she headed over to Little Big Town’s table for a quick hello before hurrying back to her own seat.

Then Shania Twain entered the room and magic filled the air. Accompanied by her hubby, the superstar and Artist of a Lifetime honoree hugged and kissed several of her industry friends before settling in at her table.

John Shearer/Getty Images for CMT

Florida Georgia Line hit the stage first to open the show with “May We All.” Everyone was feeling the music, especially Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet, who was bobbing his head and raising his hand high in the air.

When Chris Stapleton took the stage for a solo performance of “Whiskey and You,” there was a hush over the room. In fact, the only sound you could hear was the audience catching their breath, including Twain, who put her hands over her heart because it was melting like everyone else’s.

Perhaps one of the greatest moments of the evening was the appearance of the legendary Arsenio Hall, who was there to honor Ballerini, his Greatest Hits TV co-host and “little sister.” Of all the audience members in attendance, Hall wins the unofficial Spirit Award as I caught his hands in the air more often than not.

Coming in a close second would be Billy Ray Cyrus, who was nodding along with Ballerini’s performance. Twain was passionately singing along, which no doubt is what put that massive smile on Ballerini’s face.

During the commercial break, Hall and Ballerini chatted it up, but Hall couldn’t sit back down because Luke Bryan and LBT’s Karen Fairchild were about to take the stage. Hall threw up a peace sign and proceeded to jam out like a champ.

Arsenio, can we be friends? Although he already has new friend in CMT’s Cody Alan. The two were having a conversation during the next commercial break while Bryan took a moment to say hello to his friends Stapleton and wife Morgane.

Hit songwriter Rhett Akins had a front row seat to watch his son Thomas Rhett nail a mash-up performance with pop star Zara Larrson and accept his first-ever Artists of the Year honor.

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMT
A humble Thomas thanked everyone — including his best friends, Florida Georgia Line — for their love and support.

Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian were glammed up to the nines to introduce one of their heroes, Carrie Underwood. Underwood’s teary acceptance speech didn’t leave a dry eye in the house while everyone was reaching for a tissue.

There were tears and shouts of joy when pop star Meghan Trainor, R&B diva Jill Scott and Ballerini took the stage to perform a medley of Twain’s hits. Trainor took the lead on “You’re Still the One,” while Ballerini belted out “Any Man of Mine.” Scott brought the house down with her soulful rendition of “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.” Grown men and women dancing in their seats — it was a standout moment.

No one enjoyed it more than Twain, who was glowing and grooving along in the audience with everyone else.

And though her heartwarming acceptance speech signaled the end of the show, the party was far from over. Guests and performers hung around after the cameras stopped rolling and mingled for a bit, enjoying lobster bites, black bean mini-corndogs and a plethora of other tasty hors d’oeuvres to pair with their wine.

Ain’t no party like a Nashville party. Congratulations to all the honorees!

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.