Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood were revealed as the 2012 CMT Artists of the Year during Saturday night's (Dec. 8) premiere of a star-studded CMT special.
Hosted by Rascal Flatts and Hayden Panettiere, star of ABC's Nashville, the 90-minute special was taped earlier in the week at an invitation-only event near Nashville, but the identities of the honorees remained a closely-guarded secret until Saturday.
Celebrities from the music, TV and sports worlds gathered to celebrate the career achievements of country music's class of 2012. Aside from the star power, musical performances and a generous supply of fine wine and other adult beverages, the evening also served as something of a family reunion as artists warmly greeted each other at a time when the music industry slows down for the holiday season.
The evening began with a video segment depicting Panettiere and Nashville co-stars Connie Britton and Charles Esten on the set of the TV drama before Rascal Flatts whisk her away to host the CMT special. Throughout the show, verbal interplay between Panettiere and band members Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus punctuated the evening. Rascal Flatts launched the music with "Hot in Here."
Baseball great Roger Clemens presented Keith's trophy during a segment that included the singer's performance of "Beers Ago" and humorous messages from Rodney Carrington and Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson.
Sheryl Crow presented Lambert's award, and Chris Young introduced Lambert's acoustic performance of "Over You." Country Music Hall of Fame member Merle Haggard offered his congratulations in a pre-recorded segment.
Eric Church received his trophy from Kid Rock and received words of support via video from Metallica's James Hetfield. Earlier in the year, Church was the only country act invited to perform at Metallica's Orion Music Festival in Atlantic City, N.J. After accepting his award, Church performed "Homeboy" with his band and a string section.
Decked out in a red suit, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Sammy Hagar presented Chesney's honor. The Eli Young Band and Kacey Musgraves paid tribute to Chesney by performing one of his recent hits, "Come Over," and a taped greeting was provided by actor Morgan Freeman.
Hunter Hayes, who is opening shows during Underwood's Blown Away tour, introduced her performance of "Two Black Cadillacs." Her husband, Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators, presented the trophy, and Today host Hoda Kotb offered her congratulations via video.
Thompson Square offered the introduction to Bryan's live collaboration with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder on "Drunk on You" and "Feel Again" before Kenny Rogers presented the CMT award to Bryan.
Former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones surprised Aldean by presenting his trophy, and Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson introduced Aldean's performance of "Take a Little Ride." Rapper Ludacris, who has shared the stage with Aldean on several occasions, delivered his congratulatory message via video.
View photos from the 2012 CMT Artists of the Year event.