[Here's the print roundup story running in Saturday's AJC - most of it is compiled from my separate blog posts during the show.]
It just wasn’t meant to be.
Although Macon’s Jason Aldean was favored to snag the coveted entertainer of the year award at the 46th Country Music Association Awards, his monster year of touring and album sales proved no match for the ubiquity of winner Blake Shelton.
Shelton turned out to be the marquee victor at the ceremony, which aired live Thursday from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, winning in three of his four nominated categories.
“I don’t know how this happened,” a stunned Shelton said while accepting the entertainer of the year award. “I freakin’ love it, though. I try to represent country music as best I can with everything I do. I love country music more than anybody in this room.”
Aldean was up for three but left empty-handed, as did Sugarland, who yielded vocal duo of the year to Thompson Square, their first loss in that category in five years. Leesburg’s Luke Bryan was nominated for a pair, but lost to Shelton and Church, respectively.
Georgia artists were nearly swept, with the exception of Little Big Town, whose Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman have area roots. The quartet nabbed vocal group of the year, beating Atlanta’s Zac Brown Band in the process (the guys were up for two and lost musical event of the year, their pairing with Alan Jackson, to Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney) and Lady Antebellum, another group with Georgia ties.
Little Big Town also scooped up single of the year for their fun-loving “Pontoon.”
Shelton’s wife, Miranda Lambert, had much to celebrate at night’s end as well, since she won a pair of trophies – for female vocalist of the year and, with Shelton, song of the year for their heartbreaking “Over You.”
The duo’s emotional acceptance speech was one of the highlights of the three-hour telecast.
“I lost my brother in a car wreck when I was 14 years old and later in life when I decided I wanted to be a country singer, my dad always told me, ‘Son, you should write a song about your brother.’ I lost my dad in January, and it’s so amazing to me that tonight, even after he’s gone, he’s still right,” Shelton said, as Lambert burst into tears beside him.
The show was heavy on performances, many of them surprisingly off-key and shrill, such as co-host Carrie Underwood, who shrieked through “Blown Away” and new artist of the year Hunter Hayes, who warbled his way through his piano-based hit, “Wanted.” Even Faith Hill and the Zac Brown Band seemed to suffer from pitch issues.
But other presentations, including the lovely pairing of Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill on “Don’t Rush,” Taylor Swift’s Paris-themed “Begin Again” and co-host Brad Paisley’s choir-filled “Southern Comfort Zone” soared.
The show’s primary musical zenith, though, was the tribute to Willie Nelson.
Lady Antebellum initiated the performance with a tender “Always on My Mind” and “Crazy.” Then came Shelton and Keith Urban for “Whiskey River”
and the ever-slender Tim McGraw and Faith Hill joined the team for “Good Hearted Woman.”
Nelson looked on from the audience with his usual bemused expression during the performances but came onstage to lead the all-star jam in “On the Road Again.”
At song’s end, Paisley ambled over to present Nelson with a massive trophy.
“How many pushups can you do with that one?” Nelson joked.
Here are the CMA winners:
Entertainer of the Year: Blake Shelton
Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
Male Vocalist of the Year: Blake Shelton
Vocal Group of the Year: Little Big Town
New Artist of the Year: Hunter Hayes
Album of the Year: Eric Church, “Chief”
Song of the Year: Miranda Lambert, “Over You”
Vocal Duo of the Year: Thompson Square
Single of the Year: Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Music Video of the Year: “Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith
Musical Event of the Year: “Feel Like A Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney (duet with Tim McGraw)
Musician of the Year: Mac McAnally (Guitar)
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene