Photos by Alan Mayor
At the 45th annual CMA Awards, they spread the love around.
The big Entertainer (Taylor Swift), Female (Miranda Lambert), Male (Blake Shelton), Duo (Sugarland), Group (Lady Antebellum) and Video (Kenny Chesney/Grace Potter & director Shaun Silva) awards were the sole ones taken home by their respective winners.
Jason Aldean, who took home Album of the Year with producer Michael Knox, also won Vocal Collaboration with Kelly Clarkson. The Band Perry won Best New Artist, plus Single of the Year. Its lead singer, Kimberly Perry won Song of the Year.
It is a measure of how popular and mainstream country music has become that the Media Room at the Bridgestone Arena was packed. We were so close to one another, we were practically sharing DNA. They ran out of food for us and had to send out for pizza. It was worth it: Every major winner came backstage to visit.
The room erupted in cheers when Taylor Swift won Entertainer of the Year. The woman’s tour did, after all, sweep triumphantly around the globe this year. So we felt like justice had been served.
“I just didn’t want to think about it,” she said of her nomination. “You don’t want to have high hopes. To have it happen twice [she also won in 2009] is just freaking me out….It’s all because of the fans. They’re the ones who decide whether you’re playing in an arena or a theater.
“The most amazing feeling is to watch a song….You write it. You play it in your living room on guitar. You record it. Then 50,000 people are singing it back to you…..The Speak Now Tour is very theatrical. And every song has its own treatment. Now as I finish [writing] songs, I can kind of picture them on stage. It’s kind of a day-dreamy job.”
By the way, her award was noted as “Act 13” on the script and show rundown, and it followed the 13th commercial break. As you know, that’s the lucky number Taylor draws on her hand each night.
“I was really surprised and humbled,” said Miranda Lambert of her win. “I was just kind of here to be a part of it. I was prepared for someone else to take this home.”
Earlier this week, she became the first country female to have her first four albums all debut at No. 1 on the charts. “It’s kind of crazy to think you’re making history,” Miranda remarked.
On stage, she blurted, “It’s gonna be a good night tonight, Bay-bay,” to new husband Blake Shelton. “I have no idea what I said, but apparently everybody thinks Blake is getting lucky tonight,” she said backstage. “It’s my birthday in, like, an hour [which is today], so we’re going to celebrate with our families. This is a great way to end a crazy year. I’m living in the moment, and every moment is special right now.”
Miranda, Taylor and Kimberly Perry are all young, female singer-songwriters who won major awards. Miranda said she admires the fact that Kimberly and Taylor wrote their songs solo and aspires to be like them.
“Who runs the world? Girls. I’m proud of the female singer-songwriters,” she concluded. Blake Shelton joined her for some duo backstage photos. They are the first married couple to take home the Male and Female prizes since Tim McGraw and Faith Hill did so in 2000.
“Last year when this happened, in the back of my mind, I had the idea that I’d been doing it so long that the industry felt sorry for me, and it was a sympathy vote,” Blake recounted. “This year, I thought that was a fluke. The industry is fickle.
“I’m numb right now. When I wake up in the morning, it is going to look like this trophy is under my sheets, and it won’t be. That’s how happy I am.
“Eighteen months ago, if you had told me this was all going to happen, I’d have told you [that] you were crazy. It doesn’t seem real to me, still.”
“Country music is all about the song,” said Video winner Grace Potter. “What’s great about Kenny’s audience is that they’re listeners.”
“We had never met before we went into the studio to record this song [‘You and Tequila’],” Kenny Chesney reported. “I felt like I needed the other side, the female perspective. I heard her song ‘Apology’ and said, ‘That’s the voice I need.’ Shaun Silva captured that chemistry on film on a beach in California.”
Much was made, backstage, about the number of cross-genre collaborations on the show. Among the “carpetbaggers” to country, in addition to Potter, were Kenny Loggins, Natasha Bedingfield, Matt Nathanson, Greg Allman and Lionel Richie.
“I think it reflects the way that people listen to music today,” Kenny commented. “We see that here tonight.”
And you know what? The Grace Potter and Lionel Richie duets (with Little Big Town, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts) were more “country” than many of the performances by the country stars.
“R&B and country are REAL,” explained Lionel of his crossover. “I was wanting to do a country album. I came here to do research and found out that the country artists knew the lyrics of my songs better than I did. So I changed it into a duets album.” In fact, so many Nashville artists wanted to participate that his forthcoming CD is now “Part One,” and “Part Two” is in the works.
“I felt like with the success I had with Kelly [Clarkson], we had a decent shot [for a trophy],” said Jason Aldean. “But as far as Album goes, that wasn’t expected at all. This album has been special in a lot of ways. From the guys in my band who played on it, to producer, to record label, to management, there’s a lot of people involved in making a record. It’s a group win. It’s a big one, and this album will be here long after I’m gone.”
Between Jason, Taylor and The Band Perry, it was a big night for small labels. “It is the joy of our lives to sing this song [“If I Die Young”] with you every night,” Kimberly Perry told the cheering fans on stage. In the Media Room, she added, “The CMA’s have always been the Super Bowl in The Band Perry household. So we feel like we just won the Super Bowl.”
“There’s no way we should be singled out among the groups on that [nominee] list,” said Lady Antebellum’s Dave Haywood in gratitude for their win. Lady A is preparing to launch a tour to support its new CD, Own the Night. “It’s a culmination of what the past five years have been for us,” said the group’s Hillary Scott backstage. “We’ve rehearsed for three weeks. We’re really excited. We drew out the stage design on a paper plate, and now it’s come to life.”
“The fans saved our lives this year,” said Sugarland’s Kristian Bush. Backstage, Jennifer Nettles explained that after August’s fatal audience accident in Indiana, the duo’s fans helped in the healing process: “We’re thankful and counting our blessings.”
Despite this being the duo’s fifth consecutive win, she added that they do not take anything for granted: “You can’t expect anything in this industry. If you do, you’re setting yourself up.” Kristian added, “You appreciate all the work that all the other acts are putting in. You’re just happy to be here with them.”
One of the most moving segments of the telecast was the tribute to Glen Campbell by Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Jimmy Webb. It was even more heartbreaking backstage when it became clear that Glen, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, did not recall meeting them. He is courageously continuing his farewell tour, which comes to the Ryman on Nov. 30 and Dec. 5. “I’ve got my three kids with me, and they’re my musicians now,” he reported. “That way, I can get them cheaper!”
As shoulder-to-shoulder as we were in the Media Room, those covering the Red Carpet arrivals were allotted practically inches to stand in. Out there, we learned that Alabama’s Mark Herndon is now drumming for Leah Seawright. The husband/wife duo Thompson Square was thrilled to be there, since this was Shawna & Kiefer Thompson’s first such experience. Shawna has ditched the zebra-striped hair look and gone with black tresses.
It was quite amusing when Tim McGraw & Faith Hill arrived. Fans shrieked, and photographers practically shoved the preceding TV star aside. Which proves that we don’t need to import award presenters from another medium. Except we love ESPN’s Erin Andrews and St. Louis Cardinals World Series MVP David Freese.
Martina McBride arrived in a purple sequined evening jacket. Ginnifer Goodwin (ABC’s Once Upon a Time) was in a flouncy, black-and-white, strapless cocktail dress. Kellie Pickler was lean and lovely in a sky-blue, body-conscious evening gown. Kimberly Williams Paisley wore a vivid red satin number with off-the-shoulder straps.
LeAnn Rimes was gorgeous in an icy white sparkling gown with cascading ruffles. Carrie Underwood was sparkling in a gold creation, one of 1,000 costume changes for her that night. Laura Bell Bundy hosted the pre-telecast ceremony in a blue-and-beige sequined top with a plunging neckline and a full, flowing, azure chiffon skirt that had a slit up to her waist revealing the top was a bathing suit.
Laura Bell announced the Video win, as well as Mac McAnally’s fourth consecutive Musician of the Year honor. “I’m not sure I belong in the same zip code with these other players,” he remarked of his competition. The Radio winners were also announced pre-tel.
Then the telecast began. Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood were at their funniest as hosts. The recent Hank Williams Jr. football flapdoodle was mocked, and he hilariously appeared to join in the fun. The Tim & Faith Barbie dolls were a stitch. In the audience, Tim blushed beet red, while Faith howled. Miss Piggy and Little Jimmy Dickens as “Baby Justin Bieber” were also a hoot.
Four women twirled on silks overhead while Sara Evans sang. Every time the camera went to Sara, the men in the Media Room howled in protest. Martina McBride, Eric Church and Chris Young were standouts. So was Greg Allman with The Zac Brown Band. Of Lady A, all I can say is “Wow.” “Footloose” with Blake and Kenny Loggins was a pop-retread dud. The producers showed a stunning lack of imagination by employing pyro, again, for Miranda’s spot.
Although the audience seemed lukewarm about it, I thought Sugarland’s collaboration with Matt Nathanson was stunning. After I get done writing this, I’m seeking out his debut pop CD. The press room was divided as to whether Natasha Bedingfield was wearing a Muppet or a discarded 70’s shag carpet during her duet with Rascal Flatts.
Here are some moments to remember from the lower levels of the Bridgestone Arena. Kris Wilkinson wrote the arrangements for the Glen Campbell tribute, but was still starstruck to see him backstage. Glen sweetly talked in “Donald Duck” voice to Luke Lewis’s little daughter Georgia when they were introduced. Rac Clark (Dick’s son) is a newlywed. “Third time’s the charm,” he said. I can’t wait to call my brother in Pittsburgh to tell him I pee’d in the men’s room next to Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw. “Just tell him we hung out together,” Terry suggested. I urged him to make a new country record. “A comeback at age 63?” he responded. “Just look at Loretta,” I replied.
Mingling in the madness were Ray Sells, Vanessa Sellers, Becca Walls, Colt Ford, Peter Cooper, Kay West, Mark Humphrey, Tom Roland, Dan Vandandingham (who pointed out to Taylor that his last name has 13 letters), Jake Owen, Reese Witherspoon, Deborah Evans Price, Ken Tucker, Hunter Hayes, Tony Brown, Teddy Gentry, Storme Warren, Greg Travis, George Walker IV, John Dwyer, Holly Gleason, our Media Room hosts Wendy Pearl and Gary Voorhies, Chuck Aly, Phyllis Stark, Wes Vause, Vernell Hackett, Paula Erickson, Brad Schmitt, Brian Mansfield, Beverly Keel, Tree Paine and Lucas Hendrickson.
We celebrated our own when Jessie Schmidt announced that Fox News’s Ashley Dvorkin was this year’s CMA Media Achievement award winner, and when Bob Doerschuk gave the CMA Close Up Award of Merit to student photographer Bennett Farkas.