Photographer: John Russell / CMA
It’s Taylor’s world; the rest of us just live in it.
As surely the entire known universe is aware by now, the country-pop princess bagged four CMA Awards Wednesday night (11/11), including the monumental Entertainer of the Year trophy. That win makes her the youngest person in history to be so named and the first female artist to earn it since the Dixie Chicks in 2000.
“Every single year of my life, I have watched the CMA Awards, so I know what this means,” said Taylor Swift backstage. “I’m at a loss for words. I’m just very appreciative right now.” She was informed that legendary artists such as Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton have praised her achievements. “Thank you for telling me that,” she replied. “It’s such an honor to know that Reba McEntire knows my name. Reba has been so wonderful to me. So has Faith Hill, who is my idol.
“I have no idea what’s going on. I’m stunned. Tonight, I’m just gonna dance around with my band and my crew and my record label. I couldn’t be more grateful…..I feel so lucky to be able to sing country music and to go to New York and sing country music in those places,” most recently Saturday Night Live, which she hosted last week.
Taylor has been the opening act for all four of her fellow Entertainer nominees. One of them was CMA co-host Brad Paisley. “Next year, we’re not going to take any opening acts out,” he quipped backstage. “I’m kidding. I’m really proud of her. She’s an amazing artist of natural talent. She’s taking country music to places it’s never been. She’s the biggest thing in music right now.
“And a child shall lead them,” he added in Biblical fashion.
Brad was a double winner as Male Vocalist and for Musical Event for “Start a Band” with Keith Urban.
“’Start a Band’ was bittersweet for me,” he said with tongue in cheek. “Because I really wanted to win that one alone.”
The other double winner was Lady Antebellum, who won Single of the Year and dethroned six-time champs Rascal Flatts as Group of the Year.
“That was a complete shock,” said Lady A’s Charles Kelley backstage. “Rascal Flatts: That’s some big shoes to fill.” He added that the first concert he ever saw was by fellow nominees The Eagles.
As we all know, viewers don’t remember who won or lost. They remember who performed well. On that score, Taylor, Brad and Lady A all delivered in spades. Taylor’s show-opening “Forever & Always” featured tossing a chair from a riser, sliding down a fireman’s pole and writhing on the floor clad in black. She also performed “Fifteen” seated on a stool in the audience with her acoustic guitar while fan girls surrounding her sang along. Brad was inspirational, rocking “Welcome to the Future” both vocally and with blistering guitar licks. Lady A’s magnificently sung “Need You Now” was magical in a blue, smoky atmosphere with white confetti wafting through the air to the stage.
We also were charmed by the beautifully melodic “Tennessee Line” by Daughtry with Vince Gill, by Jamey Johnson & Kid Rock doing “Somewhere Between Jennings and Jones,” by the delicate “I’m Alive” by Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews and by Miranda Lambert, Sugarland, Keith Urban and Billy Currington.
All the greats were gathered backstage in the press room — Neil Haislip, Ken Tucker, Peter Cooper, Kay West, Whitney Pastorek, Bob Paxman, Chuck Aly, Lucas Hendrickson, Bob Doerschuk, Larry McCormick, Hunter Kelly,
Alan Mayor, Brian Mansfield, Cindy Watts, Greg Travis, John Rose, Eileen Finan, Vanessa Sellers, Terry Bumgarner and rotating flacks including Karen Tollier, Dixie Owen, Judy McDonough, Karen Byrd, Liz Cavanaugh and Paula Erickson.
Jack Ingram was doing the Sirius play-by-play. Craig Morgan was covering for Premiere Radio. Little Big Town, Eddie Bayers & Lane Brody, Lady Antebellum and assorted other celebs strayed in from the green room. Steve Betts, Vernell Hackett and Deborah Evans-Price
were all AOL reps. Ed Rode and George Walker kept things light by engaging in a mock photo fight. As the ABC affiliate, Brad Schmitt commanded first stop in the TV-interview lineup. George Voorhies presided. Donna Hughes has become sort of our Helen Thomas, generally getting the lead question with the visiting stars.
Down there beneath the Sommet arena, we are treated well, being provided with show rundowns, big viewing screens, headphones, ample photo ops, digital-photo delivery runners and food (box lunches with turkey wraps or ham sandwiches, take your pick).
Among our press-room highlights was Naomi Judd proclaiming, “I’m on the lecture circuit. I speak on an encyclopedic number of topics. I’m a communicator.”
Lady A’s Hillary Scott explained, “Dave [Haywood] is the brains, the glue that holds us together. Charles [Kelley] is the hustler. He pushes us.” “She’s the heart,” responded Charles. “And she’s the hottest,” added Dave.
“I was really making this record for me,” said New Artist winner Darius Rucker. “I wasn’t thinking about whether it would work or not….The acceptance is really unbelievable.”
“In Color” collaborator James Otto said that he likes writing hits for others even better than he likes writing them for himself.
Hall of Famer Barbara Mandrell recalled, “When Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and me started headlining our own shows, it was a huge deal. Now, it’s completely normal [for country’s women], but believe me, back then, it was groundbreaking.”
Gorgeously gowned in gold, Barbara was also a charmer on the pre-show red carpet. To the disappointment of many, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman breezed by without stopping to chat.
Meanwhile, Keith Bilbrey was cheerleading in the pre-show ceremonies. Stalling for time while waiting for envelopes, Love & Theft delivered a flawless, a cappella, harmony-soaked rendition of “Runaway.” The trio was breezy and bright while presenting a trio of accolades.
Mac McAnally was named Musician of the Year. “I’m tickled to get nominated in the only category you don’t have to diet to be a part of,” he quipped, adding, “Music’s the best thing in the world.”
Taylor’s “Love Story” won Best Video. “Most of all, I’d like to thank my sweetheart Eddie,” said director Trey Fanjoy. “I’m living my own ‘Love Story.’” Brad and Keith weren’t present for their “Start a Band” win.
Brad and Carrie co-hosted with aplomb, beginning with their parodies, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Kanyes” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” directed at Brooks & Dunn.
“You smell amazing,” Carrie said to Brad. “It’s intoxicating.” “I’m wearing Tim McGraw,” he explained. “What a coincidence,” she responded. “I’m wearing Faith Hill’s ‘Parfums.’”
Speaking of scents, Brad introduced Kid Rock as “a pungent combination of whiskey and Waffle House.” Kid presented Single of the Year to “I Run to You” by Lady A.
Continuing their banter, Carrie said to Brad, “I don’t feel well. Can you feel me and tell me if I’m hot?” She launched into “Flu” to the tune of “Blue.”
Carrie was the eve’s fashion maven, appearing in (1) silver bangles, (2) one-shoulder fluffy red, (3) crimson satin, (4) silver tap pants, a purple crystal necklace and a white tunic to sing “Cowboy Casanova,” (5) green taffeta, (6) a tie-dyed floor-length, multi-hued gown and (6) yellow chiffon. Did I miss any?
Nobody in the press corps applauded Kellie Pickler’s new red hair. But she was exquisite in floor-length silver lame alongside fellow presenter Jake Owen, snappy in a checkered mauve tux. LeAnn Rimes looked fine draped in white, and Faith Hill was divine in flowing black.
Since the show occurred on Veteran’s Day, references to our troops were plentiful. “We spent a lot of time talking about our grandfathers in World War II while writing this,” said Song of the Year co-writer Lee Thomas Miller. “It’s Veteran’s Day. Fort Hood, our prayers are with you.” “We couldn’t get up here without thanking our veterans,” said Hillary Scott. Carrie Underwood introduced the uniformed troops in the audience, who stood to wild applause. “God bless our military,” said Barbara Mandrell.
The Zac Brown Band is the most refreshing thing to happen to country music this year, but instead of doing one of their own tunes, they disappointingly performed “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” George Strait was uncharacteristically uptempo with “Twang.” Darius Rucker waded out into the delighted crowd singing “Alright.” Nicole Kidman clapped and blew a kiss to hubby Keith Urban after he performed “Til Summer Comes Around.”
Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice” return to the CMA stage was welcome, particularly since his The Blind Side film costarring Sandra Bullock premieres this month. The final Brooks & Dunn CMA performance was “Honky Tonk Stomp” with Z.Z. Top’s Billy Gibbons in support. Jason Aldean did “Big Green Tractor,” and Reba McEntire sang
“Consider Me Gone.” Martina McBride saluted the Hall of Fame with “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” featuring inductee Charlie McCoy recreating his original harmonica part and George Strait taking the George Jones role (except he evidently can’t sing harmony).
Jimmy Dickens made a surprise appearance, snatching the mic from Brad in a “Kanye” moment to laud Taylor’s video win. “What kind of security do we have that a four-foot-nine, 88-year-old man can get through it?” Brad snipped.
“I want to thank every single person in this room tonight for not running up on this stage,” wisecracked Taylor when she won Female Vocalist. “I just got a hug from Kris Kristofferson. I’m good.”
Presenters included Lee Ann Womack & Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Heaton & Neil Flynn, Randy Houser & Robin Roberts, The Judds and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Julianne Hough. Whispers backstage had it that Julianne and Chuck Wicks are kaput, by the way.
Taylor was weeping when she concluded the night with her Entertainer win. “I’ll never forget this moment,” she vowed.
“How about that?” said Brad. “Nineteen years old!”
“What about us?” said Carrie. “We were awesome!”
Yes, you were.