During a musical cornucopia of a show with 20 performances, Kenny Chesney was again crowned country music’s monarch at the 42nd annual CMA Awards.
With his fourth Entertainer of the Year win, Kenny now ties Garth Brooks. His performance of “Everybody Want to Go to Heaven” with The Wailers was one of the CMA telecast’s 2008 musical highlights.
“As much as tonight is about awards, I really believe that standing onstage tonight is more about great songs, great fans and standing before everybody every night,” he said.
Backstage, Kenny added, “The energy I give and the energy that I get back on stage is pretty addictive. Entertaining is what I do best. I already have a 3-D version in my mind of what my stage is going to look like next year. This never gets old.” He added that he felt that Garth “opened up a lot of roads” for shows like his.
Also repeating was show co-host Carrie Underwood, with her third consecutive Female Vocalist CMA award. She was also the evening’s fashion highlight, changing into nine different outfits for the red carpet, hosting duties, performance slot and post-show party.
“Thank you, country music,” said Carrie. “I came here on an unconventional route [via American Idol]. You guys didn’t have to accept me at all…Thank you, everybody I know!”
Show co-host Brad Paisley took home his second Male Vocalist prize. When his name was announced, he lept down into the audience, hugged duet partner Keith Urban and bent down to kiss wife Kimberly Williams Paisley on her tummy. Backstage, he confirmed that she is pregnant with their second child.
Rascal Flatts won its sixth Group of the Year honor. “Again, all of our fans, again all of our fans, again all of our fans,” said lead vocalist Gary LeVox on stage. Backstage, he added, “There’s no greater feeling than standing on stage and hearing your songs sung back to you.” Jay DeMarcus said that multiple winning, “never gets old, especially when you’re standing there in the same category as your heroes, like The Eagles.”
George Strait’s Album of the Year win was also a repeat. Sugarland was in the Duo of the Year winner’s seat for the second year.
Facing stiff competition from Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins, Kellie Pickler and James Otto, Lady Antebellum was the winner of the Best New Artist CMA Award.
“This is so cool!” blurted Lady A’s Hillary Scott. At the backstage press conference, she revealed that she has a tattoo and has challenged fellow Lady A member Dave Haywood to get one, too. The group described itself as “shocked” by the win. Hillary’s mother, Linda Davis, is also a country performer. When the two hugged, that’s when Hillary truly “lost it” and dissolved into tears.
“Stay” Song of the Year winner Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland said, “I love writin’ songs and I love performin’ ‘em. It’s just been a gift from the beginning, and it was a gift to write.”
Musically, the telecast was a mixed bag. In the winners’ column were Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Kellie Pickler, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker, Trace Adkins, George Strait, The Eagles and co-hosts Brad and Carrie. Lady Antebellum was particularly electrifying. Jason Aldean and Kid Rock rocked. With her long silver-fringed top over black tights, Jennifer showed the other ladies how to dress during Sugarland’s “Love,” which was another great performance.
Not so hot were a vocally flat effort by Rodney Atkins and a wobbly-pitched performance by Taylor Swift. Brooks & Dunn’s collaboration with Reba McEntire initially suffered from an inaudible Reba. Muffled vocals also troubled the show-opening “Join a Band” by Brad and Keith.
The parade of presenters included Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, the stars of the cinematic epic Australia. “It’s a true testament to the international power of country music that you would have us Ozzies here tonight,” said Hugh. On the red carpet, Nicole said she wasn’t nervous about presenting, because hubby Keith Urban wasn’t in the Single of the Year category.
Native Nashvillian Reese Witherspoon, another presenter, said that her family has steadfastly remained in Tune Town, despite her entreaties to move them to the West Coast. She added that she misses Music City’s “soul food.”
“Do we have any Tennessee Titans fans in the house tonight?” inquired Billy Ray Cyrus, who presented with tween-sensation Miley Cyrus. They did not walk the red carpet together. Miley said it was a relief to be away from the L.A. papparazzi so she could shop for two hours at Wal-Mart unmolested by them. Billy Ray spotted Shania Twain getting out of her limo, walked over with open arms, embraced her and escorted her to the red carpet. But he walked it with former Nashville Star contestant Justin Gaston. They met on the show and bonded. Handsome Justin has been playing in the BRC band and singing harmony. He begins recording his debut disc in Nashville this week.
Other presenters included Julianne Hough, Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack, Jimmy Wayne, Jake Owen and Vince Gill. Among the show’s notable gaffs were the miniscule amount of time allotted to Brad’s tribute to Jerry Reed and Vinnie’s salute to this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, plus cutting James Otto’s song short to announce radio-station winners.
Josh and Sarah Buxton had a class reunion on the red carpet. They attended Belmont together. “I knew he was a star the first time I heard him sing,” Sarah told Channel 2 reporter Brad Schmitt. Also walking the red carpet were Jennifer Hanson, Crystal Shawanda, Darryl Worley, Big Kenny and Chuck Wicks, plus most of the show’s performers and presenters.
“I’m as nervous as I can be,” said Darius Rucker prior to his performance. Taylor Swift said that her beaded crystal red-carpet dress weighed 30 pounds. During her CMA performance, her voluminous purple ball gown magically transformed into a romantic, white floor-length creation.
Big Machine Records had its after-party right at the show-hosting Sommet Center. The jam-packed CMA bash was across the way at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Shania Twain was all the buzz at the UMG party at its headquarters on Commerce Street. Capitol’s after-party was at Lime on Upper Broadway. Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Reese Witherspoon and The Wailers all turned up at the Sony after-party on Music Row.
The soirees have been ultra-cool all this week. In addition to The Wailers and Reese, Kevin Costner, Lynyryd Skynyrd, steel-guitar great Robert Randolph, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, ‘Lil Wayne and Kid Rock have all been on the party circuit, as well as all the big country stars. What a fabulous time to “work the room.”
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