The 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards proved to be one fine education in partying, country style. Many of the evening's performances from Las Vegas proved to be very much attitude laden -- and the winners reflected this, with Luke Bryan taking the top prize, in what will widely be considered an upset. The singer was taken aback at first, as he earned a standing ovation from the crowd. "This is the defining moment of my life," he beamed.
Other winners reflected the younger generation, with Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert winning in the Top Male and Female Vocalist categories – a career first for Aldean. The Female Vocalist win marked the fourth consecutive honor for Lambert -- who was the big winner of the night with two additional wins throughout the CBS telecast.
Nowhere was this more apparent than on the show's opener, "Boys 'Round Here," the latest single from co-host Blake Shelton. The "Voice" star was in his element, along with cameos from fellow co-host Luke Bryan, Sheryl Crow, the Pistol Annies and Brad Paisley. After the opener, Shelton and Bryan assumed their roles as hosts. Having never worked with each other in that fashion before, the jokes didn't hit quite the spot as they had the past few years -- thanks to Reba McEntire's comedic timing. Shelton claimed the top prize joke-wise when, in introducing wife Miranda Lambert, that "I saw her naked this morning," eliciting a strong laugh from the audience.
Heavy emphasis was given to the performances during the show with Dick Clark Productions devoting even more time to music than ever before. Some were emotional ballads – a country music hallmark. George Strait was his eternally cool self with a version of his latest "Give It All We Got Tonight," and Eric Church toned down his performance style with a relatively stark version of "Like Jesus Does," complete with a black and white color scheme during his performance. Carrie Underwood offered a dramatic take on her most recent single, "Two Black Cadillacs," that seemed to fire up the audience. Bryan seemed to have the crowd in the palm of his hand with "Crash My Party," the first single from his forthcoming album.
Maybe the most emotionally-charged moment of the night was Little Big Town's "Your Side Of The Bed," which contained an incredible duet vocal between husband-and-wife Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild. On the other side of the love spectrum was the dreamy "Don't Rush," from Kelly Clarkson.
There were few eyes that didn't get misty during Jewel's performance of "Hands." From her recent Greatest Hits compilation, the song was written and introduced by Tori Kelly. The performance was presented in tandem with ConAgra Foods' Child Hunger Ends Here imitative.
However, when you have a Hall Of Fame member in Reba McEntire introducing two other Hall Of Famers in George Strait and Garth Brooks, you would safely bet that it would be a jaw dropping moment. Needless to say, the two did not disappoint, with versions of such iconic hits as "The Cowboy Rides Away" and "The Dance," respectively, with Brooks joining his hero on the former. The performance was in honor of longtime show producer Dick Clark, who died last April.
Still, being based in Vegas, the ACM's did offer quite a bit of spice, such as Lady Antebellum's upbeat (and very pregnant) version of "Downtown." The Band Perry kicked up their heels on a lively jaunt through their new single, "Done," and the woman who defines the word "feisty," Miranda Lambert sparkled during her performance of "Mama's Broken Heart."
From a star-power standpoint, the highlight of the evening was Tim McGraw's performance with Taylor Swift on "Highway Don't Care," which also featured some nice guitar riffs from Keith Urban. Another high-profile collaboration came a few minutes later with John Mayer's appearance during Paisley's current single "Beat This Summer." Speaking of artists from outside the format, Hunter Hayes dazzled with his new single "I Want Crazy," then introduced the legendary Stevie Wonder to the crowd, with many of the artists in the crowd being caught singing along -- including Taylor Swift.
As is the trend with many award shows, there was not one presentation until three-quarters of the way through hour one. But, Thompson Square didn't seem to mind, as their names were announced as winners of the ACM Top Vocal Duo award, repeating last year's win. Eric Church joined them in the winners' circle, netting the ACM award for Album of the Year for "Chief."
In the other fan-voted award of the evening, the New Artist of the Year (presented by Kohls) was Florida-Georgia Line. The award capped off a huge year for the duo, who have enjoyed one of the biggest country hits of the year with the energetic "Cruise." The category was one of the most competitive of the night, as they faced off against Top New Male Vocalist Brantley Gilbert and Top New Female winner Jana Kramer. If history is any precedent, the duo should fare well in future award shows. Little Big Town, who claimed the New Vocal Group award in 2006, walked away with the Top Vocal Group prize. They also netted the Video of the Year trophy for "Tornado."
One of the evening's more tender moments belonged to Shelton and Lambert for their win in the Song of the Year category for "Over You." Written about the passing of Shelton's older brother Richie, the win marked the first time a husband and wife shared the award together – in similar fashion to their CMA win last fall. The record also tallied the Single of the Year prize as well. In her acceptance speech, Lambert thanked the ACM for accepting her as a writer as well as a vocalist.
In addition to their wins for Male Vocalist and Album, Aldean and Church also won for "The Only Way I Know" in the Vocal Event of the Year group – along with Bryan. Shelton congratulated his co-host after his Entertainer of the Year win by good-naturedly quipping he won in his first -- and last -- year to host the show, which was split-broadcast from the MGM Grand and Orleans Hotel & Casino before Wonder ended the broadcast with a glorious version of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," a hit from 1970.