Toby Keith, Lonestar, Montgomery Gentry Offer ACM Previews

Bucking awards-show convention, singers to test new songs on audience.

UNIVERSAL CITY, California — Of all the songs to be performed Wednesday (May 9) at the 36th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, none is likely to be more unfamiliar to viewers than Toby Keith's "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight."

Keith's new single is slated for an album he is recording with producer James Stroud. Country radio stations have begun playing the song, and Keith performs it on tour with Brooks & Dunn. But consumers hoping to find it on an album are out of luck until Dreamworks releases his new CD in the fall.

Keith has been nominated for entertainer of the year, top male vocalist, video of the year, album of the year, single of the year and song of the year. In other words, he has earned the prominent opening spot he'll get on the three-hour show broadcast live by CBS from the Universal Amphitheatre (MTVi's parent company, Viacom, also owns CBS).

While his may be the newest tune presented on the show, Keith isn't the only artist taking advantage of a prime-time slot to get valuable exposure for a new single or album release. Billy Gilman will sing "She's My Girl" (RealAudio excerpt), from his just-released, Dare to Dream; Montgomery Gentry will dip into their new one, Carrying On, for "She Couldn't Change Me"; Lonestar previews their upcoming CD, due in June, by performing the title track, "I'm Already There"; and Brad Paisley, last year's top new male vocalist, will do "Two People Fell in Love" from his next CD, out later this month.

The country extravaganza will include 14 musical performances, a couple of "mini" performances and 20 presentations of the Hollywood-based Academy's "Hat" award. Last year's big winners are not slated to take the stage this year. Shania Twain, reigning entertainer of the year, is expecting a baby. Last year's top male vocalist, Tim McGraw, will attend with his wife, top female vocalist Faith Hill, but neither will perform. Top vocal duo the Dixie Chicks will be represented by Martie Seidel.

Keith, Jo Dee Messina and host LeAnn Rimes will enhance their presentations with dancers and pyrotechnics. Messina will sing "Downtime" from her album, Burn, while Rimes has chosen "Don't Fight the Moonlight" (RealAudio excerpt), from the best-selling film soundtrack, Coyote Ugly.

Brooks & Dunn will perform "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You," the chart-topping song from their new album, while Diamond Rio will do a mini-performance of their recent chart topper, "One More Day." Dwight Yoakam will haul out his Cheap Trick cover, "I Want You To Want Me." Alan Jackson will sing his jaunty Southern flag waver, "Where I Come From." And look for a powerful performance from Lee Ann Womack of her new single, "Why They Call It Falling."

SheDaisy, Jessica Andrews, Kenny Chesney, the Warren Brothers, Sara Evans and the nominees for top new male artist, top new female artist and top new vocal duo or group will also perform.

Kenny Rogers will accept the Academy's career-achievement award, then take the stage to do "There You Go Again," his new single.

Patty Loveless, Ronnie Milsap and Terri Clark will present the Pioneer Award to a recipient whose identity is being kept secret.

Rimes will cap the evening with a subdued reading of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which she described as "probably the first song I ever sang." Musical director John Hobbs will accompany her on piano.