At the 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas last night (4/1), Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, and more emerged as the event’s big winners. On the not-so-winning side, Ashton Kutcher sang part of a George Strait song, but the less we say about that the better.
The show opened on Carrie Underwood, her magenta dress popping against the black and white uniforms of her band. The singer delivered her current single “Good Girl,” accompanied by video screens of dancing 18-wheeler mudflap girls, but (I’m guessing) she might have been having some sound issues because I can’t recall ever seeing Carrie not hit every note with laser precision.
Co-hosts Reba and Blake Shelton gave some comic banter that kept the evening light and fun. A couple of their best:
Reba: “I remember back when you were just a life support system for a mullet.”
Blake: “I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of your early career… until we got the History Channel.”
Blake: “Peyton Manning is now a Denver Bronco. And Tim Tebow is a New York Jet. I guess the Denver Broncos were so anxious to win another Super Bowl, they were willing to sacrifice a virgin.”
Early performances included Chris Young on the up-tempo album cut “Save Water, Drink Beer,” and Zac Brown Band kicking off the ACM Fan Jam down the street at Mandalay Bay with “Keep Me In Mind.”
Sound issues also seemed to be plaguing The Band Perry during “Postcard From Paris,” but that didn’t stop Kimberly Perry from conducting herself like a star. You can’t teach that kind of stage presence.
Song of the Year was presented to a very excited Eli Young Band for “Crazy Girl,” accompanied by writers Lee Brice and Liz Rose. Singer Mike Eli was genuinely shocked, saying “I have dreamed about the moment my whole life.”
If it seemed like there were more performances this year, it’s because there were. A couple of the awards categories were dropped from the broadcast, including Vocal Duo of the Year. That honor went to Thompson Square, who beat out the reigning (and perhaps expected) winners Sugarland for their first-ever ACM win. They were presented with the news during the ACM Salute to the Military Concert at the ACM Experience on Saturday (3/31). Also winning an off-camera award was Toby Keith, whose “Red Solo Cup” was named Video of the Year.
Over at Mandalay Bay, host Zac Brown introduced New Artist of the Year nominee Hunter Hayes with the pointed comment that he’s “somebody who actually plays on his own records.” All the New Artist nominees–Hayes, Brantley Gilbert, and Scotty McCreery–got a very brief one verse, one chorus performance slot. Scotty was eventually named the category’s winner.
Miranda Lambert got her first of two wins for Album of the Year, making Four The Record her third consecutive album to win the honor. “My albums are my babies,” said Lambert. “It’s what wakes me up in the morning.” She also took home Female Vocalist of the Year.
Later in the show, the RCA Records star turned in one of the night’s best performances with “Over You,” which her hubby Blake Shelton called “the most important and personal song of our lives together.” Clad in a striking black dress, Miranda’s emotive performance of the song about loss and grief proved that she doesn’t need fireworks and shotguns to get her point across.
KISS, in full makeup, presented Lady Antebellum with the Vocal Group of the Year Award, prompting Charles Kelley to say “I feel like I need to pull [my shirt] down and give a little chest hair.” Later in the show, the group sang an atmospheric “Dancin’ Away With My Heart” on a very foggy stage.
EMI Nashville’s Eric Church gave a great performance of “Springsteen,” and the cameras caught Keith and Nicole singing along in the audience. Also, is anyone else starting to wonder if Church sleeps in those sunglasses?
Brad Paisley ripped through “Camouflage” with gusto, showing his trademark flashing guitar licks. Paisley re-appeared later in the show to play guitar on Zac Brown Band’s “Whiskey’s Gone,” clad in a beanie to match Brown’s signature headgear.
Jason Aldean, Kelly Clarkson, and Michael Knox won the Single Record of the Year ACM for “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Aldean revealed that his intuition about recording the song had been right. “I thought it needed a female vocal, and Kelly was the first name I threw out.”
Reba gave the late Earl Scruggs a shout out before legendary comedian Steve Martin turned up to play the title instrument on the Rascal Flatts single “Banjo.” He seemed underutilized, however, staying mostly in the background.
Shelton introduced Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” by saying it was “the biggest surprise hit since Osama Bin Laden said ‘Who is it???'” Vegas comedian Carrot Top randomly showed up during Keith’s march around the arena during the boozy hit.
Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney sounded good together on “Feel Like a Rockstar,” which was shipped out to radio during the show. Call me crazy, but I suspect their Brothers of the Sun Tour this summer might go pretty well.
Another excellent performance came from Dierks Bentley, who was introduced via video by Bono. “His music reaches all the way to my kitchen in Dublin,” said the legendary rockstar before Bentley delivered an anthemic, sing-along version of “Home” that wouldn’t have been out of place at a U2 show.
Then things took a turn for the gimmicky with the much-publicized wedding during Martina McBride and Train singer Pat Monahan’s performance of “Marry Me.” What was probably a nice idea on paper fell flat in execution as the audio panned between Martina’s vocals and the wedding official doing the “to have and hold” bit, leaving many viewers scratching their heads.
Co-host Shelton was presented with the Male Vocalist award, continuing his and Miranda’s reign as the King and Queen of the format. “I didn’t see this coming!” he said. “I was thinking about Dierks’ song. It’s been a long hard road, and we’ve got a way to go still.”
Other performances included Keith Urban’s “For You” from the movie Act of Valor; Blake Shelton on “Drink On It”; Little Big Town mixing Hunter Hayes’ song “Here’s Hope” with John Lennon’s “Imagine” and a children’s choir to raise awareness for the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign; Jason Aldean on “Fly Over States”; and Sara Evans on “My Heart Can’t Tell You No.”
Taylor Swift, who didn’t perform, was presented with her second consecutive Entertainer of the Year Award. “To my fellow nominees, I respect you so much. We work hard and try to give back. Thank you to the fans for voting, and also my family!”
Shelton got a second performance slot to close out the show, and was joined by Lionel Richie to duet on Richie’s hit “You Are” which appears on the duets project Tuskegee.
Check out a full winners list from the 47th Annual ACM Awards right here.