After more than a decade as a recording artist, Kenny Chesney finally became a winner at the CMA Awards.
Despite a series of multi-platinum albums, chart-topping radio hits and sold-out tours, Chesney had never won a CMA award until Tuesday night (Nov. 9) when he won the album of the year honor for When the Sun Goes Down. By the time the show ended, Chesney had picked up the entertainer of the year prize in a category that included Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw.
"I've been making records and been on the road for 12 years now," Chesney said in accepting the album of the year honor. "This is my first CMA award, and I'm very proud of it."
Unfortunately, his acceptance speech for the biggest award of the night -- the coveted entertainer of the year prize -- was cut short by the television show's producer and director in an effort to end the three-hour CBS telecast promptly at 11 p.m. ET, as scheduled.
"I'm so proud to be in country music," he said. "I love country music with all my heart. I take pride in doing what we're doing. I stay up at night on the road thinking of ways to make my show better. A lot of guys taught me how to do that. Conway Twitty taught me how to do that. George Strait taught me how to do that, and Tim [McGraw] taught me how to do that. A lot of people did."
At that point, music began playing in the background as a signal for Chesney to wrap up his acceptance speech.
"You can turn that off," Chesney said. "I'm going to stay up here. I waited 12 years. You ain't gonna run me off in two minutes. You can turn it off the TV, but we're gonna be here awhile." With that, though, the telecast was over. Later at a backstage press conference, Chesney did not appear to be upset over the incident.
Considering Chesney's track record, his wins weren't completely unexpected, especially in light of the tenacity and hard work that have been hallmarks of his career.
Jackson, who received seven nominations this year, failed to win in any category Tuesday night, but the biggest surprise was Keith Urban being named male vocalist of the year. In a category that also included Chesney, Jackson, Keith and Strait, Urban had little reason to believe he would win the male vocalist honor. It was only his second CMA nomination, having won the Horizon award in 2001.
"Oh, my Lord," the Australian-born singer-songwriter-guitarist said. "I thought I was just rounding out the category. I'm so dumbfounded, I don't know what to say. Thank you to God for music. I'm so glad my mom and dad are here tonight." He added, "I feel very blessed every day. The fans are amazing. I just thank Nashville for letting me come and make music. It's all I've ever wanted to do."
Although most people in the music industry expected newcomer Gretchen Wilson to win this year's Horizon award, she was humbled by the progress she's made in just 12 months.
"I came here last year and sat way back there in the very back and dreamed of standing up here someday," Wilson said. "I just had no idea that it was going to happen so fast for me." After thanking the fans and those directly involved in her career, she said, "I'll close with this, in just saying that I feel a little bit guilty taking home such a wonderful present on my daughter's birthday. Happy birthday, Gracie, if you're watching."
It's likely that the awards show allowed Wilson to make an even stronger impression on mainstream America. For those who might have considered her to be a novelty act on the basis of her first two singles, "Redneck Woman" and "Here for the Party," Wilson offered a better representation of her deeper talent with a soulful delivery of the current single, "When I Think About Cheatin'."
Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss were multiple winners, sharing musical event and video of the year honors for their collaboration, "Whiskey Lullaby." During the onstage presentation of the musical event trophy, Paisley credited country radio with the song's success.
"It says a lot about the great people in our format out there that are playing our music when they'll take a chance on a double-suicide, drinkin' song," Paisley said.
Earlier in the evening during a presentation that was not televised, Paisley and Krauss accepted the video award on behalf of Rick Schroder, the actor who directed and appeared in the clip.
"First of all, Rick Schroder could not be here," Paisley said. "I think he did a great job on this video. It's like a movie. Thanks to the fans who, I'm told, made this the most-requested video on CMT for the last couple of months. ... [Alison] said she thought Ricky did a great job of having the shakes when he was drunk in the video."
The 38th annual awards show also marked the induction of two new Country Music Hall of Fame members -- singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson and music executive Jim Foglesong.
Kristofferson's Hall of Fame induction included brief performances of several of his most famous songs -- "For the Good Times" by Willie Nelson, "Help Me Make It Through the Night" by Faith Hill and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" by Randy Travis. Kristofferson joined the three singers to perform "Me and Bobby McGee."
During the induction, Kristofferson paid special thanks to three of his earliest supporters in Nashville -- song publishers Marijohn Wilkin and Bob Beckham and record producer Fred Foster. Referring to "the day when the music was what mattered and was all that mattered," he added, "I want to thank John and June [Cash] for endorsing me back when nobody knew me and for defending me when everybody did and for just standing up for truth and justice and human rights."
Kristofferson also called attention to the late Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Harlan Howard, Janis Joplin, Mickey Newbury, Shel Silverstein "and all the other beautiful souls that are drawn to this way of life. Somehow it always seems to bring out the best in us. Anyway, from the heart, thank you."
Brooks & Dunn scored their 12th win as vocal duo of the year, but they broke new ground at the awards show. Since being announced as hosts, the duo always acknowledged that they were merely filling in for the guy who declined the duty after serving as host for 12 years.
"Each and every one of these fine people is excited, nervous and wondering the exact same thing we are," Kix Brooks told the crowd. "And, ya'll, we have no idea where Vince Gill is. I'm figuring he's probably at an all-night lighted golf course or maybe celebrating at that all-you-can-eat low carb buffet down the street." He added, "Trust us, Vince just wanted to take a break tonight which makes us the only nominees for the 'not as good as Vince Gill' award tonight."
Complete List of Winners at the 38th annual CMA Awards Show
Entertainer of the Year: Kenny Chesney
Female Vocalist: Martina McBride
Male Vocalist: Keith Urban
Vocal Duo: Brooks & Dunn
Vocal Group: Rascal Flatts
Horizon Award: Gretchen Wilson
Album: When the Sun Goes Down, Kenny Chesney (artist), Buddy Cannon and Chesney (producers)
Single: "Live Like You Were Dying," Tim McGraw
Song: "Live Like You Were Dying," Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman (songwriters), Tim McGraw (artist)
Music Video: "Whiskey Lullaby," Rick Schroder (director), Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss (artists)
Musical Event: "Whiskey Lullaby," Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss
Musician: Dann Huff (guitar)
CMA International Achievement Award: Dolly Parton
Country Music Hall of Fame inductees: Kris Kristofferson and Jim Foglesong