LAS VEGAS — It was poised to be a big night for the ladies at the 45th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. And Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum made sure that prediction came true as the pistol-packing country gal, the former “American Idol” champ and the female-led chart-topping trio swept up the evening’s major awards.
Host Reba McEntire opened the show with some sharp-tongued barbs, praising the year of hits that included “White Liar,” and then thanked Tiger Woods and Jesse James for giving country’s women so much material. She took some good-humored jabs at young stars Underwood and Taylor Swift, joking about Underwood’s recent engagement and Swift’s runaway success. “At least I can vote,” she said, looking at Swift with a grin.
Before the accolades started rolling in, the show kicked off with Lambert and Underwood dueting on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1970 hit “Travelin’ Band,” giving the already swampy rock hit a Nashville rock makeover. The tune’s composer, CCR genius John Fogerty, came out and ripped off a wicked solo and threw down a verse, trading off guitar licks with country star Brad Paisley. Also joining them was fiddle icon Charlie Daniels, who recently recovered from a minor stroke.
The big night then began for Lady Antebellum, as the group won Song of the Year for their country pop breakthrough “Need You Now,” which beat out tunes by Underwood, Swift and Lambert. “Thank God, thank our families, thank the fans so much,” said singer Hillary Scott. Shortly after, the group — who led all nominees with seven — won Single Record of the Year for the same tune. They earned two trophies for the Single and Song wins because they produced and wrote “Need You Now,” as well as one for top Vocal Group, for a total of five.
The group went acoustic later in the show for their performance of the ballad “American Honey,” which included a shout-out “Thank you, fans!” mid-song.
“When we wrote ‘Need You Now,’ I don’t think we knew what we had on our hands,” said group member Charles Kelley afterwards about the song that almost didn’t make the album. “You never know where a song can take you, and tonight is probably the pinnacle of our career.”
Swift, introduced by her pal LL Cool J, rocked the house with the Tri-Tones, a 16-member San Diego choir she found on YouTube, who joined her for a rousing rendition of “Change.” Uncharacteristically dressed down in black denim leggings, black boots and a black tank top, she started the tune by flying out over the crowd in a round cage wearing a white dress and changed costumes midair, flinging her hair around wildly and then capping the set off by diving into a group of guys, who then carried her away on her back. Despite five nominations, however, the singer went home empty-handed on Sunday night.
“Legally Blonde — The Musical” Broadway star Laura Bell Bundy made a sexy run through her single “Giddy On Up,” in which she did some sassy line dancing while wearing a cropped top and chaps over supertight jeans.
Underwood took the stage again later in the show in a flowing floral gown for a moving performance of “Temporary Home,” backed by a female quartet on piano, violin, acoustic guitar and cello. Tearing up while accepting the Triple Crown Award — joining an elite group of artists in 2009 who’ve won Top New Female/Male Vocalist, Top Female/Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year from the ACM — Underwood thanked her fans and said, “I could never have wished for, asked for, dreamt of anything like this.”
She had more thanks to give near show’s end, when she made history by becoming the only female to win the fan-voted Entertainer of the Year honor twice and in consecutive years in the award’s 40-year history. “My phone is buzzing!” she said as she took the stage to accept the award. “Thank you, fans. I love you so much. Thank you, country music,” she added jumping up and down and twirling around in celebration.
Lambert got in on the action in a big way as well, winning for Video of the Year for “White Liar” as well as snagging the night’s big honor for Album of the Year for her third album, Revolution, and Female Vocalist of the Year, which earned her a big hug from Underwood. “This music is what I do, it’s the only thing I live for. Thanks for loving it. It changed my life,” she said after winning Album of the Year, the second time she’s taken that trophy. The rabble-rouser toned it down later for her performance of the hushed ballad “The House That Built Me,” a slice of humble pie about remembering and honoring your roots.
Speaking to the press afterwards, Lambert said her reaction to Female Vocalist of the Year was, “Are you freaking kidding me. I’m completely shocked.”
The guys weren’t entirely frozen out, as the performance-packed show also featured songs from Billy Currington, Blake Shelton with Trace Adkins, Tim McGraw, Jack Ingram with Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith with jazz great Dave Koz in a tribute to late NBA great and jazz player Wayman Tisdale, and a taped spot from the Zac Brown Band playing for troops in the Persian Gulf.
Before announcing the top Male Vocalist award, presenter Matthew McConaughey let slip that he and wife Camila Alves conceived their second child after last year’s show. The winner, Brad Paisley, was still soaking wet after jumping into a pool at the end of his performance just moments before.
After their final-ever ACM performance, soon-to-retire duo Brooks & Dunn won an amazing 16th Top Vocal Duo award for “Honky Tonk Stomp.”
Luke Bryan won Top New Solo Vocalist and Top New Artist, Joey & Rory took Top New Vocal Duo, Gloriana snagged Top New Vocal Group, and Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins were awarded Vocal Event of the Year for “Hillbilly Bone.”