Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean and Cody Johnson were the top winners during Monday night’s CMT Music Awards, which had its inaugural broadcast on CBS and Paramount+. But not everything was included in that broadcast.
Backstage, winners discussed their victories and special moments during the evening with Billboard. Below, find the five best moments you didn’t see on TV.
Parker McCollum was a first-time CMT Music Awards winner last night, taking home breakthrough video of the year for “To Be Loved by You.” McCollum was chatting with members of the press backstage when it was revealed that one of his musical heroes, George Strait, won CMT performance of the year, for his rendition of Charley Pride’s “Is Anybody Going to San Antone?” When Strait’s acceptance video appeared on a livestream of the awards show, Strait’s fellow Texas native McCollum removed his baseball cap.
“He’s the king,” McCollum told Billboard backstage. “The very earliest memory I have of any kind of music sound is “Amarillo by Morning.” As a kid, I knew every word and would sing that song so much that my granddad literally took the cassette out of his truck and would not play it anymore because I listened to it so much. So he was the first person in my life that I looked at and said, ‘I want to be like that.’ To do it like he’s done and to be as relevant as he is after so many decades and he’s stayed true to country music, there’s no one else like him.”
Maddie & Tae
Maddie & Tae also picked up their first CMT Music Awards: group/duo video of the year for “Woman You Got.” Maddie Font took the stage solo to accept the honor, while her cohort and new mom Taylor Kerr appeared via video message, holding her newborn daughter Leighton, who was born three months early. Font gave an emotional acceptance speech onstage, and backstage, the tears were still flowing.
“I miss her so much,” Font told Billboard backstage. “It is hard doing this business without my soul sister. I’ve just been holding it together as much as I can.”
Font said she also earned support from Carrie Underwood and Underwood’s husband, Mike Fisher.
“I messed up the whole outro of walking offstage, so Carrie Underwood’s husband Mike took a knee so I could sit in his seat. He was so sweet. Carrie, man, she brings the same kind of peace that Tae brings, which I don’t have, so I really needed her tonight and she was there for me like she always is,” she said, tearing up.
Font said she called Kerr immediately after their win and planned to head directly to Kerr’s home to celebrate together. “I was like,’ I’m coming over to your house and we’re getting drunk!’ And she was like, ‘Cool, I already pumped so we’re good to go!’”
Cody Johnson was another first-time winner during the evening, picking up two wins, including male video of the year for “’Til You Can’t” and CMT digital-first performance for “Dear Rodeo,” from CMT Campfire Sessions. Johnson says the wins are a testament to his fans’ steadfast support.
“It means so much for it to be a fan-voted award, because we’ve spent years touring and building a fanbase. I’ve just tried to stay authentic to what I do and I’m so thankful to the fans who have been on this ride with me.”
He also gave a nod to other Texas artists such as McCollum, who are seeing their own stars rise. “It’s great to see other Texans doing great and everyone has their own unique sound,” he said, noting the respect he has for artists such as George Strait. “He did things his way and I think we are all just trying to make the music we want to make, music that moves people.”
Jason Aldean won twice during the evening, including his very first video of the year win, for “If I Didn’t Love You” with Underwood. For Aldean, the win comes after 17 years in music.
“I remember talking to [director] Shaun Silva and saying, ‘We have this epic song and I don’t want it to be a run-of-the-mill video and I want it to represent the song,’” Aldean told Billboard. “We brainstormed a bit and came up with the idea to do it at [Nashville’s] Schermerhorn Symphony. That was so important to me and to be on the forefront of being involved to now seeing it win video of the year, that’s special to me.”
Aldean was also excited to spend time with several of his fellow artists he’s known for years, but also get to know rising newcomers.
“I saw a lot of guys that I’ve known for a while, but also some new guys like Cody Johnson, who I’m a huge fan of. To me, that’s what awards shows are about, just supporting some of these younger people. Maddie got up there to speak tonight and it’s her first CMT Award. You remember what it’s like to be a new artist to win for the first time. A lot of times, I don’t think people realize what awards mean to us. It’s a lifelong thing we’re working towards, and to be one of the few artists that actually get to win an award, that’s special to us.”
During her CMT Music Awards performance of “Ghost Story,” Underwood ramped up the theatrics for a high-flying, aerial performance that pays homage to her Reflection: The Las Vegas Residency.
“I would see our aerialists perform every night in our show, so it came from a place of envy, jealousy and envy,” she told Billboard with a laugh. “They get to fly and it’s so beautiful, graceful and athletic. I was like, ‘I would like to try that sometime, just for my own self.’ Then I had the idea of wanting to do that for ‘Ghost Story’ and I got together with our choreographer Brenda and I could tell she was assessing me and seeing if I was strong enough to do that. I went home and worked on my own and I feel like I had to do a little bit of convincing everyone around me like, ‘I’m not going to fall. I feel really confident, I’ve got this, trust me.’ Then everyone got excited about it. I worked a few more times with Brenda and felt very comfortable with it.”
Underwood also discussed what fans can expect from her upcoming album Denim & Rhinestones, which is out June 10.
“We cover a lot of ground with it and cover a lot of the influences I grew up with,” Underwood said. “But overall, when I started, I want an escape. I feel like the past two years have been so heavy for so many people, and I just want to be happy and sing happy songs, so the overall theme of it is a bit nostalgic. I just pictured people singing along in their cars and dancing to it in their homes. It’s a happy album.”