Once again, tonight's 46th Annual Country Music Association Awards proved to be "Nashville's Night With The Stars." The ABC network telecast, hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, was a mix of the old and the new, with much of the genre's new blood making the headlines - and taking home the awards, with four acts - Eric Church, Hunter Hayes, Little Big Town, and Thompson Square - winning their first CMA Awards.
But, the big prize of the night went to Blake Shelton, who claimed his first Entertainer of the Year trophy -- one of three wins during the night. In his speech, the Warner Brothers recording artist seemed not to believe his good fortune, turning to presenter Reba McEntire and saying "Entertainer of the Year?" He said in moving to Nashville, his goals were to get a "Gold Record and be a member of the Grand Ole Opry."
Performance-wise, the new blood took control of the stage from the beginning. Jason Aldean kicked off the night with a performance of "Only Way I Know" from his chart-topping Night Train album. Joining him on stage were fellow nominees Luke Bryan and Church, two of his fellow nominees for Male Vocalist of the Year bringing the crowd to their feet.
The hosts took to the stage next, performing a country-tinged parody of "Moves Like Jagger," citing the last name of Haggard rather than the Rolling Stones singer. Among the country-related stories the two talked about were Taylor Swift's romance with Conor Kennedy, in addition to Paisley mockingly explaining the "true" meaning of Little Big Town's Single of the Year nominee "Pontoon." The pair also performed a dance routine based off of PSY's "Gangnam Style." The two turned serious for a moment before their opening monologue and urged viewers to make donations to the American Red Cross for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Lisa Marie Presley presented the first award of the evening -- to Little Big Town for "Pontoon." It was the first award win for the group, after a decade of recording. "The only thing we have ever wanted to do was make music for you," said member Karen Fairchild in their acceptance speech. It was not their only trip to the winners' circle, as the Capitol Nashville act won for Vocal Group of the Year, dethroning Lady Antebellum after a three-year run.
Another first time CMA winner was Thompson Square, who broke a five-year stranglehold on the category by Sugarland. "Being able to do this with your best friend is awesome," said Keifer Thompson, referring to his wife Shawna. Church also took home a CMA for the first time, winning Album of the Year for his "Chief" set. Accepting his award, he thanked his wife, Katherine, and also cited his son Boone -- who he said was up at home past his bedtime. Voters also made Hunter Hayes feel wanted, with the nod for New Artist of the Year. In winning the award, he credited his parents, both of whom were in the audience.
It was a special night for Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, who won the Song of the Year award for the tear-jerking ballad "Over You." marking the first time a husband and wife won together in the category. Shelton told the crowd that the award was special to him because his father once told him he needed to write a song about his brother Richie, who passed away early in an automobile accident in 1990. His father passed away earlier this year. The two also claimed the Male and Female Vocalist trophies this year, marking the third straight win for both, proving that CMA voters still feel that Shelton has "The Voice." In her speech, Lambert praised each of her fellow nominees, before deadpanning "I don't necessarily deserve this, but I'll sure take it."
The awards were not all about new blood, however. Tim McGraw claimed his first award since 2007 for Musical Event of the Year for his "Feel Like A Rock Star" single with Kenny Chesney. Ironically, that win also came in the same category (with Chesney and Tracy Lawrence) for "Find Out Who Your Friends Are." It was a 2005 win for Video of the Year that was Toby Keith's most recent win ("As Good As I Once Was"), and seven years later, the Show Dog / Universal recording artist won in the same category for his popular "Red Solo Cup" clip. Both awards were announced earlier this morning on ABC's "Good Morning America." Mac McAnally also won the Musician of the Year for the fifth straight year, as well. Little Jimmy Dickens, soon to celebrate his 92nd birthday, also turned up as a doctor, "urging" Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles to give birth during the awards.
Performance highlights included Tim McGraw's "One Of Those Nights," a sensually-charged Lambert performance of her current single "Fastest Girl In Town," and the Zac Brown Band's harmony-laden "Goodbye In Her Eyes." Brown - a Georgia native -- resurfaced later in the evening to aid Keith Urban on "Georgia Woods." The Band Perry provided one of the more dramatic performances of the evening with their new single, "Better Dig Two." Country Music Hall of Fame member Vince Gill provided some soaring harmonies behind Kelly Clarkson on the dreamy romantic ballad "Don't Rush."
For all of the crossover bravado that has surrounded Taylor Swift as of late, the songstress turned in one of the evening's more restrained moments with her poignant "Begin Again," from her million-selling "Red." Little Big Town turned up the color on a fun and flirty performance on their winning single "Pontoon." Faith Hill showcased her vocal range on "American Heart," as did Underwood on "Blown Away." Her co-host, Paisley, added New Jersey to the lyrics of his current "Southern Comfort Zone," a nod to those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The telecast also remembered the legends, as Willie Nelson, a 1993 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, was given a special musical salute from Lady Antebellum ("Always On My Mind"), Shelton and Keith Urban ("Whiskey River"), and Hill and McGraw ("Good Hearted Woman"). The "Red Headed Stranger" took to the stage to close out the performances with "On The Road Again," before being presented with the first annual Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Underwood and Paisley also performed a brief musical tribute to Connie Smith, one of the three most recent inductees into the Hall, along with Garth Brooks and legendary instrumentalist Hargus "Pig" Robbins.