Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton emerged as a genuine country music power couple after winning in a total of five categories at the 44th annual CMA Awards held Wednesday night (Nov. 10) in Nashville.
It was quite an evening, too, as Brad Paisley won his first-ever entertainer of the year award and further established himself as one of country's best spokesman.
With nine nominations this year, Lambert received her first three CMA Awards. In addition to being named female vocalist of the year, she took home album of the year honors for Revolution and shared a win in the video category with director Trey Fanjoy for "The House That Built Me." The title also netted a song of the year win for songwriters Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.
"Revolution has truly caused a revolution in my life this year, thanks to the country music industry," she said of the album produced by Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke. "It's my baby. It's what I do. It's what I live for. Thank you so much for loving it, too."
The video award was presented prior to the awards show telecast, but when Lambert accepted the female vocalist trophy, she acknowledged Shelton, who is her fiancé.
"I don't know what's going on," she said. "I just told Blake, 'I think we need to go to church.'"
Shelton had never won a CMA Award, either, but it changed when he was named male vocalist and shared musical event honors with Trace Adkins for their collaboration on "Hillbilly Bone."
"Thank you fans!" Shelton said when the musical event category was announced prior to the telecast. "Yeah! That's how I like to start the night right there. I can relax and get drunk now! ... If Trace were here -- and he's not -- I'm sure he would have said something like, 'You better be glad we won this, or I would have whipped somebody's ass.'"
He was more serious, if not absolutely shocked, when he heard his name called as the male vocalist winner.
"That's about 34 years of steps right there for me, y'all," Shelton said. "This is a really big deal for me, and I'd have to go back a long way to thank everybody I need to thank."
After acknowledging his record label, management company and country radio, he gave a special thanks to his mentor, famed songwriter Bobby Braddock, for helping him launch his career.
Aside from Shelton, the only person who appeared more surprised Wednesday night was Paisley when he was named entertainer of the year.
"My hero, Little Jimmy Dickens, has a saying," Paisley explained in his acceptance speech. "And that is if you see a turtle on a fencepost, it had help getting up there. And I feel just like a turtle on a fencepost at this point.
"First of all, I want to talk to the fans. It sounds like a cliché when you say, 'Thanks to the fans.' But the great thing about country fans is when you say 'fans,' I don't even mean mine. You guys are loyal to everyone in this room. It's the most amazing, loyal fan base in the world."
Paisley credited his grandfather, who died in 1987, for giving him the inspiration to be a country singer and musician.
"Tonight, to me, is about him," he said. "This is a man who loved Buck Owens, and he loved Johnny Cash. And he said, 'I want you to learn to play the guitar because this is gonna get you through lonely times, and you'll never be alone with this.'" Paisley's voice became more emotional when he added, "And I don't think he ever thought it would draw 20,000 people."
Earlier in the evening, Paisley introduced a new song, "This Is Country Music," a statement of pride about country music legends and the core values of the music itself. After an onstage video display and the lyrics cited figures such as diverse as Conway Twitty and Rascal Flatts, he ended the song as the video showed Buck Owens and Owens' lead guitarist Don Rich as Paisley played the guitar licks to his heroes' signature song, "Buckaroo."
Lady Antebellum were named vocal group of the year, and group members Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood shared the single of the year honor with producer Paul Worley for "Need You Now."
"This has been the most incredible year of our lives," Kelley said.
"I just want to say thank you so much to my bandmates, Charles and Dave," Scott added. "Like Charles says, this year has been unbelievable, and I can't imagine two better people more fun to enjoy the ride with. This is so humbling."
"To all the groups, we're huge fans -- Rascal Flatts, Zac, The Band Perry, Little Big Town. It's an honor to be in a category with you," Haywood said.
The Zac Brown Band won the new artist of the year prize.
"Thanks so much to all the fans who believed in us ... to all of our team ... to our wives, especially, that believe in us and that we come home to," Brown said. "Everybody here that's given us a shot, it's an honor to live on a legacy, getting to do what we love to do and try to be the best musicians that we can possibly be."
Sugarland won the vocal duo award for the fourth consecutive year. Citing the recent release of their new album, The Incredible Machine, vocalist Jennifer Nettles said, "It's been a wonderful few weeks for us with the release of a new record, and this definitely gets on the top of the list for sure."
In addition to Paisley's performance, the awards show had some memorable moments as a noted actress demonstrated she can indeed sing a country song, and a 75-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame member wowed the crowd with a stellar vocal that once again proved why she is a legend.
Academy Award winner Gwenyth Paltrow provided one of the most anxiously-awaited moments because of her starring role in Country Strong, an upcoming film about a female country singer who attempts a comeback. She sang the title song written by veteran Nashville writers Jennifer Hanson, Tony Martin and Mark Nesler.
Paltrow is an actress, of course, but she seemed relaxed and natural as she strummed a huge Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar and turned in a vocal performance that rivaled the ones that are getting new artists signed to Nashville record labels these days. Having Vince Gill singing harmony vocals and playing guitar at her side probably made the live performance a little less intimidating.
But the highlight of the night was when Loretta Lynn walked onstage to join Lambert and Sheryl Crow for the last verse of "Coal Miner's Daughter." The segment was introduced by actress Sissy Spacek, who portrayed Lynn in the 1980 film of the same name.
With Lambert, Crow and Lynn having recorded the song for the just-released album, Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn, the Hall of Fame member's arrival onstage was unannounced but not a huge surprise. Despite off-and-on health problems in recent years, Lynn's voice was strong and authoritative as she sang the song about her youth in rural Kentucky.
Underwood kicked the show off on a high note with Paisley and Keith Urban joining her on "Songs Like This." Reba McEntire got a strong response with her version of Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy," a track from her new album, All the Women I Am.
Underwood also took a solo spot to sing "Mama's Song," and Lambert did an energetic version of John Prine's laid-back "That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round." String sections appeared to be in higher demand than usual during the show, and the most eclectic performance of the evening had to be Sugarland's theatrical presentation of "Stuck Like Glue."
Collaborations included the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson on "As She's Walking Away" and Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson's "Don't You Wanna Stay." Other performers included The Band Perry ("If I Die Young"), Dierks Bentley ("Up on the Ridge"), Kenny Chesney ("The Boys of Fall"), Kid Rock ("Born Free"), Lady Antebellum ("Hello World"), Rascal Flatts ("Why Wait"), Shelton ("All About Tonight"), George Strait ("The Breath You Take"), Taylor Swift ("Back to December") and Urban ("Put You in a Song").