Kenny Chesney's remarkable career continues to thrive after winning his third trophy for entertainer of the year at the CMA Awards on Wednesday night (Nov. 7). However, he spent most of his time in the pressroom praising his fellow winners, including Tracy Lawrence, George Strait and Sugarland.
Photo Credit: Ed Rode
"George Strait has been more than a hero of mine," he said. "He's been somebody to learn from -- directly and indirectly. Here's a guy who's been doing this a long time, who won album of the year because he continued to cut great songs that people can live their life with and relate to and believe in when he sings it. I hope that when I'm in George's spot in life, that I'll still be able to win a couple and that I'll still get those great songs."
Chesney also visited the pressroom earlier in the night after Lawrence won the vocal event award for "Find Out Who Your Friends Are," his No. 1 comeback single that featured Chesney and Tim McGraw as guests.
"I think it was a special thing when Tracy called me and Tim to be a part of it, and we jumped at the chance," Chesney said. "It's taken a long time for that to happen, for the three of us to sing together. We used to sing at a lot of the same bars. I think all three of us kind of wanted to one day have a song on the radio and go see what it was like to tour around the country, just once. ... For us to share in this is really special because it's something that I don't think any of us, when the year started, thought would happen."
While Lawrence spoke to reporters, Chesney was visibly distracted by the TV monitors as Sugarland raced to the stage to collect their first vocal duo award.
"They are very, very deserving of that," Chesney said. "Last year, when I was on the road with them, you could see the groundswell happen with them. ... By the time the tour ended, they were in a really, really good spot. You could tell that the crowd was relating to them and to what they were saying and to how they were acting and to everything they were doing. I was really glad to watch that monitor right there. I couldn't tell what they were saying, but I am proud of those people."
Backstage, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush described their own emotional state as shocked, a nervous wreck and bungee jumping all the same time. They also acknowledged the momentum that Chesney had mentioned earlier.
"We're writing for the new record right now, which hopefully in February we're going to be going back in and recording," Nettles said. "So it's a busy time, but that momentum helps us push forward, regardless. We want to go in and do a great job for our new record and for our fans because obviously, that's what it's all about. They're the ones that build that momentum. It's word of mouth. Don't get me wrong, promotion is great, but when somebody likes something and turns to you as a friend and says, 'You gotta hear this,' you're gonna go to the show."
After Brad Paisley won his first male vocalist trophy from the CMA, he noted, "It's one of the toughest categories every year. I'm really, really humbled and proud to have squeaked this out somehow. I was thinking about it today -- you only need 21 percent, technically, to win. And I'm sure that's about what I had."
Paisley was also enthusiastic about the video award for "Online," which was directed by Jason Alexander, better known as George Costanza on Seinfeld. Recalling the live footage shot at a concert in Seattle, Paisley said, "The audience had no idea [Jason] was there. He walked through the doors wearing my outfit, busting out of it, and as soon as they showed his face on the big screen and he was lip-synching to the song, they just went nuts. That was one of the most priceless, fantastic moments of my career so far, seeing that happen. Little gifts like that, that you can give your audience and your fans, are fun."
Carrie Underwood collected trophies for female vocalist and single for "Before He Cheats."
"When I first heard the song, I knew it was ... a great song," she said. "I knew it was going to turn out really, really awesome. But I think so many more people were exposed to the song, and if it made them listen to the rest of the album or if it made them turn onto a country music station to try to catch the song, then it did its job."
Horizon Award winner Taylor Swift, dressed in a custom-made Cinderella gown, told reporters, "I feel like tonight has been this magical, fantasy, not real, unbelievable night. I'll never forget it as long as I live. I can't believe that this happened."
Meanwhile, Strait reflected on his extensive career. His award-winning, It Just Comes Natural, marks his 18th CMA victory. The first ones came in 1985, when he won male vocalist and album of the year for Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind. He joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
"It's unbelievable to still be here after that long time, but I still feel great and I love to sing," he said. "I still like to tour. Getting started is kind of hard, but once I get out there, it's a blast. When I walk on stage, I still love it as much as I ever did. And I love making records. It's fun making records, and the whole process of putting a record together is fun for us. I've got a great team, and so I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can."
See photos from the CMA Awards show and backstage pressroom.