ACM Awards Showcase New Music, Surprise Victories

Entertainer of the Year Jason Aldean performs during the 2017 Academy of Country Music Awards. Photo: ACM/Instagram

The 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards were packed with high-energy performances, surprise wins, and standing ovations from the in-house crowd at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile arena on Sunday night (April 2).

Entertainer of the Year nominees Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban opened the show with a medley that surely captured the attention of viewers at home, roping them in for the three-hour rodeo that ended with Aldean capturing his second consecutive Entertainer trophy.

Among the most surprised winners were Brothers Osborne and Thomas Rhett, who took home honors for Vocal Duo, and Male Vocalist, respectively. Thomas Rhett offered a sincere thank-you to the Academy, God and his fellow nominees. “Everyone in this category are my idols… and shaped the artist that I am,” he said. “This is a very humbling experience.” He also won Song of the Year with co-writers Sean Douglas and Joe Spargur for “Die A Happy Man.” Pregnant wife Lauren Akins beamed in the audience.

Thomas Rhett accepts Male Vocalist honors. Photo: CBS.com

The entire show exemplified first-rate stage production. Urban’s performance of “Blue Ain’t Your Color” was displayed in black and white with blue lighting for television viewers. Bryan’s take on “Fast” was an eye-catching display of Edison bulbs. And proving that sometimes less is more, Miranda Lambert’s stripped-down offering of “Tin Man” was slow, steady and pure. Stepping onstage alone, she showcased her undeniable talent as a singer-songwriter while wearing a black dress with cascading fringe.

The song is from The Weight of These Wings, which was awarded Album of the Year. Longtime producer Frank Liddell joined her onstage to accept. “I just want to thank Miranda for being willing to look deep in her soul and bringing her life into her art,” he said. “And [to] any young songwriters out there: tell the truth. It’s more interesting.”

Lambert, who was also named Female Vocalist, saluted fellow nominee Underwood then continued, “I’m just glad to see females kicking ass these days. I’m so proud to be part of that. So cheers to all of us girls out there dreaming.”

Awards co-host Luke Bryan sings “Fast.” Photo: CBS.com

Another female showing off her songwriter chops was six-time nominee and New Female Vocalist winner Maren Morris. Draped in a stunning floor-length white gown with a white guitar, she brought old Hollywood glam to new single “I Could Use A Love Song.” She also teamed with Thomas Rhett to perform their upbeat new duet “Craving You.”

It was one of several male-female duets which punctuated the show, including Urban and Underwood bringing disco vibes with “The Fighter.” On the other end of the spectrum, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s serious “Speak To A Girl” ended with an excited Hill hugging her husband.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw embrace following their performance of “Speak To A Girl.” Photo: CBS.com

Indeed the varied styles of today’s country were on display. Sam Hunt gave a groovy rendition of the playful “Body Like A Back Road.” Reba and CCM artist Lauren Daigle moved the audience with the powerful faith-anthem “Back To God.” The horns section on Lady Antebellum’s “You Look Good” kept the crowd bopping. Chris Stapleton stuck to his traditional-leaning sound on new country rocker “Second One To Know.” ACM Group of the Year Little Big Town brought the vibrant “Happy People” amidst a colorful background and wardrobe. LBT’s Karen Fairchild also spoke on behalf of Video of the Year winner “Forever Country,” which is a multi-artist effort led by the Country Music Association. This may be the only time the CMA receives an ACM Award.

Little Big Town bring their song “Happy People” to life. Photo: CBS.com

A major highlight of the show was the consistent offering of new songs from the performers. While many awards shows prefer artists sing their biggest hits in order to attract viewership, the ACMs opted to give fans a plethora of new music. In addition to the aforementioned songs, Rascal Flatts proved their lasting relevance with new single “Yours If You Want It.” Brett Eldredge sang “Somethin’ I’m Good At”—complete with an appearance by a contortionist. Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley made hearts race with cool new tune “Flatliner.” And Old Dominion previewed killer track, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” from their upcoming album.

Some of country’s biggest stars (Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton and Eric Church), were noticeably absent from the festivities. Brooks and Shelton were shut out of the nominations, while Church received a nod for Song of the Year (“Kill A Word”).

Florida Georgia Line and Backstreet Boys closed the show with a supercharged performance. They sang “God, Your Mama and Me” and then rocked every body in the house and at home with the hand-swaying ‘90s pop anthem “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”

Florida Georgia Line and Backstreet Boys rock the crowd. Photo: CBS.com

 

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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