The 55th CMA Awards were Wednesday night in Nashville. And while the awards show was another step towards normalcy in a world still dealing with a pandemic, there were plenty of moments that shattered typical in the best possible ways. If you couldn’t tune into the show, here’s what you missed.
Brothers Osborne won Duo of the Year at the 55th CMA Awards – their fourth win in the category, but their first since 2018.
T.J. Osborne kissed his boyfriend on camera on his way to the stage – an unprecedented moment in country music. He bravely came out early this year, becoming the first country artist at the peak of his career to do so. He’s the only publicly out artist signed to a major country music record label in Nashville.
“Oh my God, I tell you every time we’ve won this award, it has never ever ceased to be extremely shocking,” T.J. Osborne said from the stage. Honestly, it is so incredible to be here. Thanks to everyone who voted for us. It’s been a crazy rollercoaster of a year for us in so many ways – especially for me emotionally. To have you all support me, it really does feel like love wins tonight.”
John Osborne added: “We love this genre. We love the people. We love all of you so much. It’s an honor to know all of you. Give this boy a round of applause.”
Brothers Osborne delivered an emotional version of their song “Younger Me” later in the show. Before he sang, T.J. Osborne explained: “For many years, I watched this show year after year, and I always thought how incredible it would be to be up here on this stage. There were so many hurdles for me, and I truthfully felt it would never be possible because of my sexuality. I just wish, I wish my younger me could see me now.” – CW
Carly Pearce was revealed as Female Vocalist of the Year – her first CMA Awards win – and she momentarily looked stunned. She dropped her head in her hands and sobbed at her table. She tried to compose herself, hopped up and started to make her way to the stage. She was overcome by emotion again on the way there, and her fellow female vocalist of the year nominee and duet partner Ashley McBryde grabbed her by the arm and pulled her onto the stage.
“I really didn’t think this was going to happen,” she sobbed into the microphone as people cheered. “Help,” she choked out.
McBryde hopped on stage again.
“What she really meant to say was there’s a lot of love, respect and admiration in this category,” McBryde explained for disappearing again.
“I want to thank God,” Pearce said through tears, then launched into her list of thank yous.
“I’ve had just a crazy year, and I want you guys to know that this means everything to me,” she said. “Country music saved me in a time that I needed it, and I just want you guys to know that this is all I’ve ever wanted in the entire world. I hope you know that country music is all I love.” – CW
Jimmie Allen is the first African American to win the Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year trophy since Darius Rucker took the honor in 2008. The men are the only African Americans in the history of the New Artist of the Year Award or its predecessor, the Horizon Award, to ever get the win.
When Allen’s name was called, he received the night’s loudest applause to that point as he made his way to the stage.
Allen, whose wife recently gave birth to their second child, wiped tears as his voice broke with emotion while he thanked his deceased father for introducing him to country music.
“Five years ago, I spent my last $100 and came to the CMA Awards for the 50th to watch Charley Pride perform on stage,” Allen recalled, still tearful. “And, I got to perform with him last year.”
Dressed head-to-toe in pink, Allen told his wife he loved her and thanked his manager Ash Bowers who discovered him playing at Puckett’s Grocery in Franklin, Tenn.
“Every artist in this category is amazing,” he said, namechecking his competitors Gabby Barrett, Mickey Guyton, Ingrid Andress and HARDY. “This is for my hometown in Delaware.” -CW
While Chris Stapleton collected the most trophies of the night, Luke Combs walked away with the top prize – Entertainer of the Year.
Alan Jackson presented him with the trophy.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” Combs said, holding his award. “Alan Jackson just said my name twice right now.”
Combs admitted that he never writes acceptance speeches and said the practice was not serving him well in the moment.
“I want to thank every artist in this room,” he said. “Every single person that was nominated for this award this year and every year before deserves to win it. I don’t deserve to win it, but I’m sure as hell glad that I did.”
Earlier in the night, Combs debuted his new song “Doin’ This.” The song explains that people ask him what he would be doing if he wasn’t a famous country music star — and the answer is the same thing.
Lyrics include: Having a Friday night crowd in the palm of my hand|Cup of brown liquor, couple buddies in a band| Singin’ them same damn songs like I am now| I’d be feelin’ on fire on a hardwood stage|Bright lights like lightning runnin’ through my veins|At the Grand Ole Opry or a show in some no-name town| I’d still be doin’ this if I wasn’t doin’ this.
After the show, Combs said he and his songwriter friends were sitting on the back porch at the end of 2020 trying to write a song. They had no ideas and started talking about how when people ask him what he would do if he weren’t a singer. He jokes that he would be homeless. He explained the reality is a little different.
“There was never a plan b,” he said. “Once I decided this was what I was going to do, I was going to do whether that was at this level or the level I was at when I started. I would be chasing this if I wasn’t holding it in my hand right now. I’ll always be doing that. Music is what makes everyone who does what I do blood pump. It’s what gets them out of bed in the morning.” – CW
Acclaimed performer Miranda Lambert celebrated her 38th birthday by opening the CMAs with a fiery career retrospective of her country hits, including “Kerosene,” “Mama’s Broken Heart,” “Bluebird,” “Little Red Wagon,” and “Gunpowder & Lead.” As explained by the vocalist before the proceedings, the exciting performance certainly “[had] a lot of spice in it,” and set up an evening of bombastic and pyrotechnic entertainment.
Lambert was nominated for Entertainer of the Year and Musical Event of the Year for her collaboration “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” with Elle King. Lambert also offered thoughts about the genre’s group of budding superstar female creators. “I’m just happy to also see this new crop of great artists, especially the female artists, Lainey Wilson, Gabby (Barrett). They’re coming on strong, and I’m really excited to watch their rise.” – MD
Chris Stapleton’s November 2020-released album Starting Over yielded an incredible haul of Song, Single, Album, and Male Vocalist of the Year trophies on Wednesday evening. He also joined Academy Award-winning vocalist Jennifer Hudson for a celebration of Aretha Franklin’s connection to country music. Hudson performed Franklin-covered 1965 Willie Nelson hit “Night Life,” and Stapleton added his vocals for a take on Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine” that was an extraordinary crowd pleaser.
It’s important to note how many members of the country music community-at-large regard the “Tennessee Whiskey” singer’s vocal instrument as an otherworldly gift. If looking for a rationale as to why the artist had such an impressive evening, his latest album — which features the single “Cold” that he also sang live — finally put together the pieces of what comprises his stardom best. – MD
Three-dozen tracks of 2021-released album Heart and Soul later, and Eric Church arrived onstage at the CMA Awards with an incendiary performance of his single “Hearts On Fire.” Church’s frequent collaborator and backup singer Joanna Cotten’s soaring vocals plus his own guitar solo highlighted his addition to the evening’s activities. The ceremony was filled with incredible special effects feats, including Dan & Shay’s levitating stage and Blake Shelton’s stormy backdrop. However, Church singing while surrounded by a literal burning ring of fire was quite notable.
Church’s July 2021-released single was the second from his Heart release from the Heart and Soul trilogy and successfully reached the top 40 of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts. Before the event, Church was nominated for five awards: Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Single, Song, and Album of the Year. – MD
Mickey Guyton is one year removed from breaking out as a country star with the single “Black Like Me,” and being mentioned by Maren Morris (as she won for Female Vocalist of the Year) as an African-American female country performer who inspires the work of others. Thus, the fact that she took the stage with Brittney Spencer — also mentioned by Morris in 2020 — and country newcomer Madeline Edwards to perform Guyton’s Remember Her Name album track “Love My Hair” represents a step forward. Moreover, the fact that the trio performed while adorned with crowns mimicking natural Black headdresses and white gowns symbolized a resplendent African-American female royalty unprecedented in the genre.
The song’s inspiration, 14-year old Faith Fennidy, a Black girl from Louisiana who was sent home from school in tears after a teacher publicly humiliated her for wearing box braid hair extensions, introduced the trio. To CMT exclusively, regarding the event, she offered, “I teared up [after being onstage]. It was really emotional. I still can’t believe that they really wanted me to come and present. I was so excited. I just really hope people take the performance into their hearts.”