As if there was any prior doubt, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert won the November election as country music's current king and queen during the 46th annual CMA Awards.
At Thursday night's (Nov. 1) ceremony at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, Shelton received his first trophy as entertainer of the year, as well as his third consecutive male vocalist of the year award. Lambert won her third straight female vocalist award, and the couple shared one of the night's most prestigious honors -- the song of the year award -- for co-writing her hit, "Over You."
Little Big Town also won in two categories -- vocal group and single of the year (for "Pontoon"). Other winners included Eric Church (album of the year for Chief), Thompson Square (vocal duo), Hunter Hayes (new artist) and guitarist Mac McAnally (who won his fifth consecutive award as musician of the year). Earlier in the day, the winners in two categories were announced on ABC's Good Morning America. Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw shared the musical event award for their collaboration on "Feel Like a Rock Star." Toby Keith and director Michael Salomon also shared the music video prize for "Red Solo Cup."
In accepting their awards, Shelton and Lambert each managed to show their appreciation while expressing their love of country music and, perhaps even more notably, their peers within the industry.
Perhaps the award that meant the most was the song of the year win for the song they co-wrote about Shelton's late brother, Richie.
"I lost my brother in a car wreck when I was 14 years old," Shelton told the crowd. "Later in life, when I decided I wanted to be a country singer, my dad always told me, 'Son, you should write a song about your brother.' I lost my dad in January, and it's so amazing to me that tonight -- even after he's gone -- he's still right. I just needed the right person to write this song with and the right person to sing it."
In accepting her female vocalist trophy, Lambert said, "Holy crap. I don't necessarily deserve this, but I'll sure take it."
Then she spoke about the emotional nature of "Over You."
"I didn't say anything for song of the year because it was a huge, huge dream of mine to write the song of the year," she said. "And I never thought I'd get to, especially celebrate it with my husband."
Lambert also made it a point to lavish praise on the other four nominees in the female vocalist category -- Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Martina McBride.
"I've been listening to Red all week long. It's freakin' awesome, Taylor," she said. "I was at Carrie Underwood's rehearsal yesterday and she sang 'Blown Away' three times in a row -- and it blew me away. And I'm sitting here looking at Kelly Clarkson. I sang with her onstage in Colorado, and I wanted to crawl in a hole and die after that. ... I just talked to Martina, and she invited me to her house. I grew up with her records and tried to hit even one note she ever sang -- and it's impossible.
"So I can't believe I'm standing up here holding this right now. But I'm going to try to represent for all the females who want to be up-and-comers and that want to just get their country voice out there. There's room for all of us girls. ... We're going to stick together and get our country voices heard."
In accepting his other awards, Shelton alluded to the fact that he hasn't toured extensively during the past year because of his involvement with the NBC series, The Voice. However, it's likely that his visibility on the talent competition and other TV talk shows swayed CMA voters to cast their ballots for him in the coveted entertainer of the year category.
"When I moved to Nashville in 1994, I had two goals," he said. "One was to someday have a gold record, and one was to someday be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Entertainer of the year ... what is this? I don't even know.
"Look, I know I'm not out there on the road. Oh, my gosh. Taylor Swift? I know I'm not out there as much. And I don't know how this happened. I freakin' love it, though. Listen, I try to represent country music as best I can with everything I do. It's television, it's touring. It's a lot of things. I love country music more than anybody in this room. Thank y'all so much. I love y'all."
In winning their first-ever CMA awards, Little Big Town member Kimberly Schlapman noted, "This has been a 13-year journey."
"We're living proof that if you work really, really hard and you chase your dream, all the good stuff happens and it follows you," bandmate Karen Fairchild added.
Church won his first CMA trophy, too, and he indicated that the album of the year victory means he has a place in country music.
"I've spent a lot of my career wondering where I fit in -- too country, too rock," he said. "I want to thank you guys for giving me somewhere to hang my hat tonight."
Thompson Square, the husband-and-wife duo of Shawna and Keifer Thompson, ended Sugarland's five-year run as duo of the year.
"Ever since I was about 5 years old, I used to practice in the kitchen with one of my mawmaw's Mason jars for this moment right here," she said while onstage.
"This is one of the coolest things we've ever experienced," he noted. "Being able to do it with your best friend, it's awesome."
Hayes, a 21-year-old Louisiana native, was initially at a loss for words after hearing his name announced as the CMA's new artist of the year.
"I don't even know what to do right now," he said. "Oh, wow! I want to say, thank you, Lord, for letting me do what I do and what I do every day. Thank you to the amazing fans. Thank you to my family. They're here tonight. My mom and dad have done so much to get me right here. Thank you, guys. ... Amazing. This is awesome."
The awards show, hosted by Underwood and Brad Paisley, is often used by artists and record labels as a platform to introduce new music. Thursday night was no exception.
Jason Aldean opened the show with a message of support to East Coast fans who are victims of Hurricane Sandy and then had Church and Luke Bryan join him for "The Only Way I Know" from his new album, Night Train.
Tim McGraw performed "One of Those Nights," the first single from upcoming album, Two Lanes of Freedom. Taylor Swift offered "Begin Again" from her just-released Red. The Band Perry previewed "Better Dig Two," a rough-edged song from trio's second album, set for release early next year. And Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill provided one of the evening's musical highlights with "Don't Rush," their duet which will be featured on her upcoming album, Greatest Hits -- Chapter One. Other newer songs included Faith Hill's "American Heart" and Paisley's "Southern Comfort Zone."
Keith Urban and Zac Brown teamed up to perform "Georgia Woods," a song featured on his 2010 album, Get Closer. Church delivered "Springsteen," which featured a brief portion of the Boss' "Born to Run."
Other performances were provided by Lambert ("Fastest Girl in Town"), Underwood ("Blown Away"), Hunter Hayes ("Wanted"), Aldean ("Take a Little Ride"), Bryan ("Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye"), Little Big Town ("Pontoon"), the Zac Brown Band ("Goodbye in Her Eyes"), Dierks Bentley ("Tip It on Back"), the Eli Young Band ("Even if It Breaks Your Heart"), Brantley Gilbert ("Country Must Be Country Wide") and Kenny Chesney ("Come Over").
The music ended with an all-star tribute to Willie Nelson, who received the CMA's first lifetime achievement award named in his honor. Lady Antebellum began the medley with "Always on My Mind" and "Crazy." Shelton and Urban followed with "Whiskey River," accompanied by Nelson's longtime harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. Hill and McGraw sang "Good Hearted Woman" before Nelson joined all of the musicians onstage for one of his signature songs, "On the Road Again."