The CMA Awards have a long history of co-ed co-hosts. Sonny James and Bobbie Gentry hosted the inaugural ceremony in 1967, followed by Dale Evans and Roy Rogers for the first televised event in 1968. Vince Gill and Reba McEntire hosted in 1992. Since 2008, Brad Paisley, 43, and Carrie Underwood, 33, have shared hosting duties to great acclaim. Ahead of the 2016 CMAs, they shared with Billboard some reflections on the 50th anniversary and their memories growing up watching the show.
You began working in August with executive producer Robert Deaton to develop this year’s show. How do you strike the right tone to balance honoring this year’s nominees and looking back at the CMA Awards’ rich history?
Underwood: We start out with a lot of ideas and jokes and moments and whittle away until we feel like we’ve got it. It takes many hours spent meeting and talking and reading through it all to get it right. I feel like, this year, though, there will be so many amazing artists present and so many special moments in the show that Brad and I will just have to keep it all running smoothly so the viewers can focus on the legends.
This is your ninth year co-hosting. What has your evolution been in terms of contributing to the script and tone?
Paisley: Since the second year we have gotten progressively more involved. In the last few years we have been a part of everything we say and do, either coming up with the idea or fine tuning someone else’s. I think one reason it works so well is that we don’t settle for anything that doesn’t feel like us. And we aren’t saying someone else’s words; we have made sure they are our own.
Underwood: Brad and I are extremely involved in the writing of the script. I think we both feel more comfortable bringing ideas to the table. We all work so well together, though, so meetings are usually pretty fun.
What is your favorite CMA moment involving you, and what is your favorite CMA moment involving another artist?
Paisley: My favorite CMA moment is any one of a number of memorable times co-hosting with Carrie. Knowing how often we went for a big laugh and also achieved one is so gratifying — either with Tim [McGraw] and Faith [Hill] Barbie dolls or a parody about timely issues, it’s something I’m really proud of. My favorite moment involving another artist [was in 1999] when Alan Jackson unexpectedly broke into “Choices,” the George Jones song, when George didn’t get to sing it himself.
What’s your memory of watching the show growing up?
Paisley: I never missed this show growing up. I couldn’t wait to see who would win, what they would sing, what the hosts would say, everything about it. I remember vividly Ricky Skaggs accepting Entertainer of the Year [in 1985] and speaking directly to kids learning to play country music. I always felt so inspired by this show.
Underwood: I remember sitting in the floor in front of our television hoping for my favorite artists to win and yelling at it when they didn’t! The CMA Awards definitely hold a special place in my heart as a Country Music fan. It’s still mind blowing to me that I actually get to attend — and better yet — host them. I am blessed, for sure, and I don’t take any of it for granted.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard.