Previewing the show, look for an opening performance by cohosts Blake Shelton & Luke Bryan joined by Brad Paisley and the Pistol Annies on Blake’s new single “Boys ‘Round Here,” which is about the stuff nobody in country music talks about anymore: trucks, beer, and being proud of being a small-minded redneck. Kelly Clarkson will perform her current country single “Don’t Rush” with a cowriter of her smash duet, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” Jason Sellers. Carrie Underwood will perform her most recent #1 hit “Two Black Cadillacs,” and is expected to be joined on stage by two black Cadillacs. Keith Urban will contribute his signature guitar work while two people he sings better than, Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift, perform Tim’s current smash “The Highway Don’t Care.” And reigning ACM New Artist Of The Year Scotty McCreery will present.
Other performances will include Luke Bryan’s debut of his new single “Crash My Party,” Hunter Hayes’s debut of his new single “I Want Crazy” (Hunter is expected to perform with Stevie Wonder), Brad Paisley performances with Dierks Bentley, Hunter Hayes, and John Mayer, Miranda Lambert’s performance of the Kacey Musgraves co-penned “Mama’s Broken Heart,” and a special joint performance by legends George Strait and Garth Brooks to honor Dick Clark.
As far as the awards, Carrie Underwood is up for Female Vocalist Of The Year and Album Of The Year. Numbers and critical acclaim for her singles and concerts favor her in the Female Vocalist category but the ACM nominations showed the continued strength of “power couple” coalition pushing Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert to the forefront of these awards. Neither of those two is nominated for Album Of The Year (because neither has an eligible album), but Eric Church’s 2011 album Chief likely has the edge by virtue of even greater critical acclaim and (for now) total sales in his second consecutive year nominated in that category. That Album category is also noteworthy to see if Taylor Swift can pull out a win for an album that can’t by any reasonable definition be considered country.
Speaking of LOLzy outcomes, Taylor is the favorite to pull out a win in the Entertainer Of The Year category, now a battle between
feverishly voting interns at labels, management companies, and PR firms fanbases because the award is based on a combination of fan votes and industry votes. With Shania Twain presenting the award, look for a Taylor shocked face to close out the night. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert have a strong chance at having a good night in the Vocalist Of The Year categories and Song Of The Year category despite more deserving nominees. However, this could be a breakout night for Luke Bryan, who is coming off big album and download sales from 2011’s Tailgates & Tanlines, even if they were based on embarrassing songs like “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and embarrassing lines like “you make my speakers go boom boom.”
Whatever happens, Blake and Luke are rightfully expected to be entertaining cohosts, because they are both handsome, goofy, and quick-witted guys who at their best are more than capable of making good, hilarious TV. But will they make fun of Taylor Swift? Barring a Kanye West or Faith Hill-type incident, these shows are always more about the performances than the awards. So be sure & tune in, and don’t be shy about saying what you think!
- Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church already won Vocal Event Of The Year for their generic collaboration “The Only Way I Know.” Kelly Clarkson was nominated in this category with Vince Gill for “Don’t Rush,” but this win was about the three most successful guys in country music coming together for a song, any song.
- Little Big Town won Video Of The Year for “Tornado.” Look for them to pick up another trophy as Vocal Group Of the Year.
This may be a long night. Already trying to recover the first half hour of my live blog.
Blake Shelton kicks off the night with “Boys Round Here.” Luke Bryan joins him after a couple of lines and proceeds to outcheeese and outperform Blake on his new song. Sheryl Crow comes in for the second verse and let me just say that I didn’t really ask to hear Sheryl Crow “rap.” The Pistol Annies are the next group too talented for this song but singing it anyway. Brad Paisley avoids having to sing the song, but closes with some guitar riffs.
And it’s time for Blake and Luke’s monologue! We have tight jeans and genitalia jokes already. Oh dear. Carrie is shown good-naturedly covering her mom’s ears. Jokes about Kelly and Carrie’s respective happy love lives ensue en route to Luke and Blake jabbing each other again, followed by a shout out to Lady Antebellum‘s pregnant Hillary Scott and a crude remaking of their smash “Need You Now.” The ladies all take their shout outs gamely. There are no Taylor jokes. Ahem. Luke’s timing is kind of awkward and only some of the jokes landed (like the one where Luke snarked on Blake when discussing how the show Nashville is about an older fading star threatened by a younger, good looking upstart, and the one when Luke asked which one of the Duck Dynasty guys is Zac Brown. Speaking of Zac Brown, the Zac Brown Band is nominated tonight but not in attendance. Shame.). It’s all kind of forced from both of our hosts.
Kenny Chesney is out to perform “Pirate Flag,” which is convenient because of all the pirate flags that just happen to be in the audience.
After a prolonged commercial break that it turns out was there to give Blake and Luke time to get over to the Orleans Arena for the ACM Fan Jam hosted by Brad Paisley, our hosts introduce Brad, Hunter Hayes, and Dierks Bentley for a performance of “Outstanding In Our Field,” a track off Brad’s Wheelhouse, which comes out 4/9. Dierks probably comes out of this sounding the best vocally but that isn’t saying a whole lot. Hunter guitar duels with Brad a little, and we have projection “Roger Miller” joining the production.
Back at the MGM Grand, it’s King George Strait performing his current single, “Give It All We Got Tonight.” The man is 60 and I’m grateful he hasn’t been ushered out of the lineup for these shows.
Gary Allan, who deserved a nomination and performance slot tonight for “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain)” introduces Eric Church who performs a stripped-down version of his current single, “Like Jesus Does.” Eric isn’t a great singer but you wouldn’t know it from this performance. It’s heartfelt and despite the black/white camera gimmick, it’s sincere and effective. I would love to be able to say I recognized his lovely backup singer, but I don’t. I’ll come back in with an ID when I know it. Edit: That might have been Ruby Amanfu, as per Slant’s Jonathan Keefe. Or Valerie June per @CountryonVEVO, who seems to be sure. No confirmation yet.
Florida-Georgia Line performs a short version of their smash hit (now crossing over with an assist from Nelly) “Cruise.” This is where I feel grateful the New Artist nominee performances are short.
Lady Antebellum performs “Downtown,” from their upcoming album. Lots of tight shots of the very pregnant Hillary Scott. Solid performance.
45 minutes into the show, we have our 1st award of the night, for Vocal Duo Of The Year! Gotta love that the Sugarland clip is for a song released in 2010. That’s how thin this category is.
- Michelle Stafford and befuddled San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick present the ACM for Vocal Duo Of The Year to Thompson Square.
Brantley Gilbert performs a short version of “More Than Miles,” and ends with a shoutout to his famously rabid BG Nation.
Carrie Underwood performs next!
Carrie breaks out a classic 50s look with red lipstick and a black dress for a killer performance of “Two Black Cadillacs.” She makes her entrance in a black cadillac, and she rocks out her deliciously evil song amidst a foggy cemetery background. Standing ovation at the end of the performance.
- Miranda Lambert and John Fogerty present the ACM for Album Of The Year to a very deserving Eric Church, though Miranda doesn’t seem too thrilled after Eric’s comments about Blake in Rolling Stone last year. The awkwardness is minimal though as Miranda smiles when she has to. Eric acknowledges John Fogerty’s presence and gives a short speech thanking his producer, his wife, and his son and the people who believe in his music.
Blake steps out for an acoustic performance of “Sure Be Cool If You Did.” It’s a lame song but to give Blake credit, he can sing and the acoustic presentation highlights that. To give Blake more credit, he has stayed true to his word about taking care of a Voice season 2 contestant whom he cut, Gwen Sebastian,, who sings on his album and backs him on this performance.
The Band Perry rocks out an incredibly high energy version of their current single “Done.” Kimberly Perry has a great voice but she misses more than a few notes here for the sake of the performance. Still, who is going to mess with them after this show?
Jana Kramer warbles her way through a wobbly version of her current single “Whiskey.”
- Scotty McCreery presents the fan-voted ACM New Artist Of The Year award to Florida-Georgia Line.
Jason Aldean, backed by a bunch of dancing girls, is now performing “1994.” He’s too serious about this song, and it almost feels like he’s really concentrating on hitting the notes. And there’ s no Joe Diffie appearance!
- Jake Owen and Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory present the ACM for Vocal Group Of The Year to Little Big Town, who thank everybody they can.
Miranda Lambert is looking fly in a tight fitting glittery charcoal gray dress and heels as she performs “Mama’s Broken Heart.” She talk sings some of it and she can’t rock out the song like she wants to because of the dress. Her facial expressions make up for it, and she has a lot of fun playing a crazy gal. Not the most pleasant vocal but if you’re ever going to get away with that, it’s on a song like this.
Kacey Musgraves and Sheryl Crow present the ACM for Song Of The Year to
“Overrated” “Over You,” cowritten by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Blake gives a touching speech about how much he’s learned from his wife about songwriting. Blake and Miranda are actually good and great songwriters, respectively. It just doesn’t show on the song they just won for.
Little Big Town is out to perform their new single, “On Your Side Of The Bed,” a song about a disintegrating marriage. They are accompanied by two aerial dancers in a vertical bed. As usual, LBT is nailing this vocally. The leads on this song are Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook, who are happily married to each other.
- Chris Young and Nancy O’Dell present the ACM for Single Of The Year to Miranda Lambert for “Over You.” *le sigh* It was easily the least successful and least deserving out of the nominees. Miranda gives a nice speech and thanks the industry for accepting her as a songwriter as well as a singer.
Faith Hill introduces Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban for “Highway Don’t Care.” Tim McGraw is singing the harmony part of the chorus here and the main part is inaudible if anybody is singing it. I guess the main part was too high for Tim to sing live? Taylor is in the background and has a few pitch wobbles but nothing too bad. To be honest, she sounds better & stronger than Tim. Keith comes out for a scorching guitar solo that is the most charismatic part of the song, and Taylor and Tim join him at the front stage. Ouch, that was a little sour note from Taylor there but on the bright side, there was only one and it’s clear she’s worked on her singing. Keith brings the song home.
Over at the Orleans Arena, LL Cool J introduces Brad Paisley and John Mayer for a performance of Brad’s current single, “Beat This Summer.” Brad’s mic sounds like it is too low, or maybe he doesn’t have the vocal power the recovered John Mayer has? Maybe a little bit of both because the mix isn’t getting any better for Brad.
Luke Bryan debuts his new single “Crash My Party,” starting at the piano and ending with lasers. Not his best vocal actually, and it’s not exactly an exciting song.
The great Trisha Yearwood introduces Kelly Clarkson for a lovely performance of “Don’t Rush.” How many awards shows in a row has it been now where Idol alums have given the best vocal performances by far? Because you can add the ACMs to the list.
Former AI t40 contestant Tori Kelly and Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier introduce a Jewel mashup of “Hands” and Tori’s “Fill A Heart” to support ConAgra’s Child Hunger Ends Here initiative.
- Willie and Korie Robertson of Duck Dynasty present the ACM for Male Vocalist Of The Year to Jason Aldean. OMG Upset! Not really since Jason is so successful but I sure didn’t think there was any breaking the power couple’s hold on the Vocalist titles. Jason is genuinely surprised, acknowledges his fellow nominees, and thanks everybody for letting him do what he loves.
Reba is out to a HUGE standing ovation to introduce George Strait and Garth Brooks for a special performance to honor Dick Clark. King George sings “The Cowboy Rides Away” and Garth, who sounds great, sings “The Dance.” A duet would’ve been fantastic but this is a Grade A, class performance.
- Keith Urban is introduced as the “no fly zone” between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. Heh. He presents Female Vocalist Of The Year to Miranda Lambert. Oh well. She acknowledges that Carrie (who stood up immediately to applaud Miranda) deserves the award, and weeps at how far she’s come from dreaming big dreams to watching Shania Twain perform while she (Miranda) gets to sit with Faith Hill, Reba, and Kelly Clarkson.
Hunter Hayes is up debuting his new single “I Want Crazy.” Wobbly at times but an improvement over his recent award show performances. There are balloons. Nice, high-energy, catchy tune, then Hunter introduces Stevie Wonder for a performance of “Sir Duke.” More high energy, more wobbly vocals, but fun.
- Shania Twain, at the ACMs for the 1st time in 10 years, arrives to present Entertainer Of The Year to Luke Bryan. SHOCKER for real! Luke didn’t even a headline a tour last year (he opened for Jason Aldean last year), but this is his year to explode and his tour this year will be one of the year’s biggest in country. He is genuinely overwhelmed, speechless, and a little weepy. He talks about his humble country singer dreams, thanks his wife, his label, his management, and all the guys he’s opened for, including Jason and Tim. He thanks country radio. He promises he will never take this defining moment of his life for granted.
Blake hilariously congratulates Luke for winning Entertainer Of The Year in his 1st and last year of cohosting. LOL! Luke thanks Blake for helping him through the night after kissing him copiously on the cheek. They introduce Stevie Wonder for a closing performance of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which Blake and Luke join as Shania and Faith sing along from the crowd. Of course, Taylor is still dancing, as she has been all night and maybe since the Grammys.
And that’s a wrap! Well, at least there were a couple surprises. What were your favorite performances of the night? For me, I’d say Mike Fisher’s response to a Carrie fan wins the night:
Dear @mikefisher1212 , please write a song and sing with @carrieunderwood so we can have a new country power couple!
I’m working on it. Country looks like its heading in the rap direction so I’m all good
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