Luke Bryan at the American Country Awards. (Getty Images)
Luke Bryan was the top winner at the third annual American Country Music Awards Monday night (Dec. 10) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Bryan took home nine awards, including Male Artist, Single and Music Video of the Year for "I Don't Want This Night to End," Album for "Tailgates and Tanlines" and Artist of the Year.
"Rarely am I rendered speechless, but I truly am," Bryan said backstage. "I don't know how to formulate a series of words that can truly tell how appreciative I am to the fans for voting and making a night like this possible... I always take fan voted awards and cherish them. They are dear to my heart."
Bryan said he asked his manager to cancel his 11 a.m. flight the next morning because he planned to celebrate. "We're going to make the most of the night. I always celebrate quite sufficiently," he smiled.
Carrie Underwood has won a total of 11 ACA's, more than any other artist. Tonight she was named Female Artist of the Year and "Remind Me," her hit duet with Brad Paisley was named Single of the Year: Vocal Collaboration.
"It's fan-voted so it really means a lot," Underwood said backstage. "I've been lucky throughout my career. I've had a lot of really awesome nominations and tonight was no exception. I know I have awesome fans."
"American Idol" alum Lauren Alaina, who won New Artist of the Year, was the evening's most emotional winner. "When they said my name I stopped breathing," she said. "I don't even know how I walked up to the stage. I don't remember any of it. It was like someone hit me in the head with a baseball bat. It's a blur. I've got so close so many times and I finally won something!"
Hunter Hayes, who has been on cloud nine since scoring three Grammy nominations last week, won for Music Video of the Year: New Artist for "Wanted" and also Single of the Year: New Artist.
Jason Aldean, who has been selling out stadiums, won the ACA for Touring Artist. "I couldn't win an award that means more to me than something that has to do with touring. Because that to me, is what I really try to build my career around," Jason Aldean said as he collected his award. "[I] try to go out every year and make it bigger and better and hope that you guys would show up and you have. We've been playing sold out shows and that means more to me than anything."
Lady Antebellum, who won Group and Single of the Year: Group for "We Owned the Night," has also had a busy year on the road. "We have to thank the fans for coming out to see us this year. It was such an amazing year getting to tour all over the world this year and y'all made it happen," mother-to-be Hillary Scott said.
Miranda Lambert won three ACAs tonight as her hit "Over You" was named Single of the Year by a female artist, video and most played radio track by a female. She picked up the honors while hubby Blake Shelton was at work on NBC's "The Voice." "We're competing for television time tonight," she noted in the press room. "Blake and I have such busy lives and we get to celebrate awesome moments together. . .but I love that we have separate things. Tonight he's on with 'The Voice' and I'm here. I think that's cool. As any kind of couple you have your separate lives and something to talk about when you get home."
It's been a big year for Jake Owen, who was named Breakthrough Artist of the Year. "This is a fan-voted award, which is even more validating and flattering," Owen said backstage, adding that he didn't use social media to solicit votes. "I tweet a lot. . .but I also felt like I'm not going to ask anyone for a vote. So I never, not one time, asked anyone to vote for me for this award. Tonight, even before they gave out the award when they mentioned my name, the crowd was really loud, I thought 'maybe I can win this award.'"
Owen, whose baby daughter was born on Thanksgiving Day, says 2012 has been a memorable year. "2012 has been the greatest year of my life," said Owen, who planned to celebrate into the wee hours. "Even though my baby's back home, I think it's ok if Daddy bottle feeds tonight."
Vegas does indeed provide a playground to celebrate. "Vegas is always fun," presenter LeAnn Rimes told Billboard. "I think everybody really loosens up here and it's less awards showy."
Trace Adkins and Kristin Chenoweth hosted the two-hour live event, which was broadcast on Fox. "It's totally fan-voted," Adkins says of what makes the ACAs unique among the pantheon of awards shows.
"And Fox needed an awards show," he said with a smile.
One of the highlights of the evening was Keith Urban's performance with seven young musicians who participated in the Grammy Foundation's Grammy Camp music program. "I wanted to be able to do something different and I like helping out the Grammy Foundation. They do a great job," Urban said. "I thought people need to see this is really happening. Kids come through these camps and they can really play. They are incredibly good players."