"They were there before I had anything, an album, a record deal, a tour or anything like that," Underwood said after the show. "They built me from the ground up."
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The CMT Awards, which are chosen exclusively by fan voting, were another salute to some of country music's top young stars. Lady Antebellum continued its scorching run by winning group video of the year for the trio's crossover hit "Need You Now" and Miranda Lambert taking female video of the year for "White Liar," her first No.1 song.
"Tonight's all about the fans," trio member Dave Haywood said after receiving the belt buckle trophy given to winners. "Thank you fans!"
Lambert followed up three wins at the ACM Awards with yet another win. She jumped up and pumped her fists as she made her way through the crowd and shouted, "My first buckle! This rocks!" when she reached the stage.
Lambert's "White Liar" video features the red-hot singer ditching her dishonest husband-to-be at the alter for his cheating ways. It was the first time she put on a wedding dress. The second time will come when she weds fiance Blake Shelton.
"Let's just hope that my next wedding doesn't end up like that video," she told the crowd.
Keith Urban won male video of the year for "'Til Summer Comes Around." After sending a shoutout to his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, who attended the awards, he turned serious and talked of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I want to send my deepest love to all the families around the gulf, who are going through an insane time right now," Urban said.
A few minutes later Urban lit up the stage with a scorching guitar duel with John Mayer as the two played "Hit The Ground Runnin'."
"John Mayer and Keith Urban making love on guitars," the show's host, Kid Rock, said.
It was one of the hottest performances in a night full of them.
The CMT Music Awards usually skew lighthearted and with the rowdy Kid Rock hosting, things quickly got interesting.
The good times started immediately when he was joined on stage by surprise guest Hank Williams Jr., who rarely attends awards shows, Trace Adkins, Zac Brown, Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Martina McBride and Kellie Pickler for a medley of "Cowboy," "Bawitdaba" and "Good Ol' Boys."
Kid Rock called Williams, "My rockin' rebel father Bocephus," before saying: "Does anybody realize how hard it is to get Bocephus out of the house? I don't think you understand this. The party has just begun."
The surprises continued later when "Saturday Night Live" star Kenan Thompson showed up in a green dress and red wig doing his Reba McEntire impersonation. He sang a few lines of a Reba song, then was joined on stage by McEntire.
"Um, ma'am, I'm in the middle of a song here," Thompson said to McEntire, who also wore a green dress.
"What are you doing?" McEntire asked.
"I'm Reba!" Thompson shouted. "R to the E to the B to the A. Reba!"
Kid Rock smoked a cigar on stage and told a few bawdy jokes, including one aimed at Lady A, "the hillbilly Fleetwood Mac."
"But I don't suspect they do drugs or sleep with each other," he said.
Lady A was one of four hot young acts who led all nominees with three apiece on the fan-voted awards show. Also nominated for three awards were Carrie Underwood, who took CMT performance of the year, Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean.
A field of 10 video of the year nominees was whittled down at the start of the show to "Need You Now," Toby Keith's "American Ride," Lambert's "White Liar," Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" and Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" making the cut.
Brooks & Dunn continued to draw attention as they wind down their career together. They won duo video of the year for "Indian Summer" just two months before they perform together for the last time at the end of their "Last Roundup" tour.
Kix Brooks said the win took him and partner Ronnie Dunn by surprise.
"We were not expecting this so much that Mr. Dunn has gone to the restroom - in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I told you you should be here," he said to the camera, aiming his comment at Dunn. "I am not bringing this to you. You're going to have to come and get it. This is the kind of thing that will make them think we're going to break up the duo."
Luke Bryan won breakthrough video of the year for "Do I," a song he wrote with Charles Kelley and Haywood of Lady A, Shelton and Trace Adkins won collaborative video of the year for "Hillbilly Bone" and Shaun Silva won director of the year for Kenny Chesney's "Out Last Night" and Rascal Flatts' "Summer Nights."
Fans lined up outside Bridgestone Arena to watch most of country music's biggest stars walk the red carpet. It was an eclectic mix with NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens, who sang "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews and her "Dancing With the Stars" partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and the cast of "Jersey Shore" - including Nicole "Snooki" Polzzi, who Kid Rock called "Snookums" - joining a lineup of artists that included most of the nominees.
Some interacted with fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Lambert, wearing a shiny sequined dress she compared to a "walking disco ball," drew some of the night's loudest cheers when she showed up with her fiance, Shelton.
"There's no energy like this at any other awards show," Shelton said.