7:55: It’s almost showtime. The big question is, even with the delay, how often will co-hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan say something that gets CBS in trouble?
8:05: That took only a few seconds. After performing “Boys Round Here,” Shelton and Bryan immediately go to making jokes about their man parts—or lack there of. If you’re watching at home, let us know if the “ball room” joke got bleeped. They definitely have a good ole boy vibe working for them, but it could wear thin by evening’s end… chances are good, however, that’s the most we’ll see of them together. Their opening pokes fun at each other, but pretty much leaves everyone else unscathed. The opening number was fine but lacked much pizazz, even with the addition of folks like Pistol Annies, Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow, who is trotted out at every country show now, for some reason, perhaps because she’s now trying to transition to country because, well, that’s what pop artists do when pop is tired of them… To be fair, she’s lived in Nashville for a while and has certainly had country chart success as a featured artist on songs. She’s working on a new album for Warner Bros. Nashville now.
8:10: Kenny Chesney, who really does make enough to wear something besides the same old torn jeans and faded t-shirt every single time, comes out and sings “Pirate Flag.” Two up-tempo songs in a row, but no performance that sticks with you more than 1 minute after its over.
8:18: Shelton and Bryan made it from the MGM Grand to the Orleans in no time flat. That was a fast police car. Now Brad Paisley is singing “Outstanding In The Field” with Hunter Hayes and Dierks Bentley from his new album that comes out Tuesday. This could mean it’s the next single after “Beat This Summer” or just a good opportunity to add some star wattage to a performance since they are on the track on the album.
8:24: George Strait is performing his new single, “Give It All We Got Tonight,” and, quite frankly the King sounds a little worse for wear, but, damn, he makes 60 look good. This is the first of two times we’ll see him tonight. He’ll be back much later tonight with Garth Brooks. in a salute to Dick Clark, who passed earlier this year and who was the show’s longtime producer. They keep cutting to the audience and everyone, whether it’s Taylor Swift or Kix Brooks, is trying to sing along…somewhat unsuccessfully.
8:34: Eric Church is signing “Like Jesus Does,” but I can barely focus because it’s the first time I’ve ever seen him perform without his sunglasses on and with no cap. It’s a little disconcerting. Plus, he’s spending most of the time with his eyes closed, so I guarantee that some folks are asking if he’s blind. The artsy attempt at shooting him in black and white and his backup singer in color isn’t really adding anything. It is a beautiful song though and the best performance of the night so far.
8:37: As new artist of the year nominees Florida Georgia Line are performing a snippet of “Cruise,” but there’s no time for Nelly to join them on their styling new remix with him.
8:43: Beth Behrs introduces Lady Antebellum, which is altogether appropriate since she’s in the video for “Downtown,” which ust happens to be the song they’re singing now. Hillary Scott pulls off being several months’ pregnant, looking comfortable and still looking stylish. I’m not saying the show is lacking a little excitement, but one of my colleagues in the press room is watching a viral video of foxes jumping on a trampoline and is infinitely more amused by that than the show.
8:48: Could someone please explain to me how Sugarland can be up for best vocal duo when they haven’t put out an album since 1993? OK, I realize it’s been a lot more recent than they, but please… Anyway, the award goes to Thompson Square, who won last year as well.
8:58: Carrie Underwood certainly makes the entrance of the night so far in a black Cadillac for song, wait for it, “Two Black Cadillacs.”Like many of the performances tonight, there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing that stands out, though. I will add, they are all singing live and maybe we’re so used to hearing people lipsync that we no longer allow for any live foibles at all.
9:02: Miranda Lambert, her breasts, and John Fogerty are presenting album of the year. Yes, entertainer of the year is the big award, but it still seems early to be presenting such a biggie. The winner is “Chief” by Eric Church. He has his sunglasses back on. “I can’t believe I just met John Fogerty,” he says.Nice, calm acceptance speech, which is slightly disappointing.
9:05: Blake Shelton is signing “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” his most recent No. 1. I love the line “looking like a high I want to be on.” He sounds the best of anyone, second to Church, tonight. Maybe the sound is just better geared for acoustic performances.
9:08: Thompson Square, individually known as Keifer and Shawna Thompson, are backstage. “I truly can’t believe this is our life. We never thought we’d do anything like this, especially win it twice. It’s hard to put into words, but it sure feels good. Shawna then teared up when asked about thanking her mom. Her father died recently, and her mom’s “been having a really hard time, so I just wanted to thank her.”
9:10: The Band Perry’s “Done” is hands-down the most energetic performance of the night. The song has got a little Pat Benatar, a little Led Zep, and, of course, since it has to pass as country, a little fiddle. Switch next to best new artist nominees Jana Kramer, whose fiance Brantley Gilbert performed earlier. She sounds terrible.
9:21: Duo Florida Georgia Line wins best new artist, a fan-voted award, ins the evening’s first major shock. They’d practically already engraved Brantley Gilbert’s name on the trophy everyone was so sure he’d win. Clearly, people from more than Florida and Georgia voted for them. One of them notes that this time last year they were watching the show on TV.
9:24: Jason Aldean is performing “1994,” or as we call it, “Joe Diffie.” For some reason in the images coming at us is a cassette with “Joe Diffie mix” on it, although it was already a CD world. There are also country cuties dancing on blocks. Please. Regardless, for a song that has some energy on the CD, this is a flat performance. Plus, there’s no Joe Diffie. If there were ever a time for him to come out and surprise us, that would be it. I wonder if the performances are coming off as rough on TV as they are on the monitors we’re watching backstage? I am a big country music fan and I don’t get what’s happening with the performances tonight, but the audio has been uniformly poor and too low.
9:27: Little Big Town wins vocal group of the year. A well-deserved win for a group that is having a phenomenal year after trudging along for years and years.
9:33: Blake Shelton really is the only one who can get away with talking about seeing his wife, Miranda Lambert, naked this morning and make it so damn charming. Lambert’s performing “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which is one of my favorite country music videos of the year. Kasey Musgraves, whose debut album is fantastic, co-wrote the track. It’s a spirited, sassy performance.
9:37:Song of the year goes to “Over You.” performed by Miranda Lambert, written by Lambert and Shelton, about his brother who died when he was a teenager. Shelton credits Lambert for teaching him to write a great song. I wonder if it feels weird to be the reigning country kind and queen of country, as they have been for a few years now, and know that it can’t last. Can you just enjoy the ride or do you worry about when it will be over?
9:46: Little Big Town is singing “On Your Side Of The Bed,” one of those ballads that seems destined to go to No. 1. I will root for it to do just that if I never have to see the couple doing an interpretive dance on a vertical bed suspended behind them. Is this country’s version of Cirque du Soleil?
9:49: Single record of the year goes to “Over You” and Miranda Lambert. I’m a fan of that song, but I really love Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” which still hasn’t gotten old for me. “As a songwriter having your song and your lyrics being recognized by your peers is pretty much as good as it gets,” a teary Lambert says.
9:57: Making a joke about your wife’s body, making a joke about how great another man’s wife’s body is– probably not cool, but Shelton and Bryan go there anyway with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who introduces her hubby. He’s performing “Highway Don’t Care” with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. It’s an understated performance…perhaps unintentionally. It sounds like their microphones are turned way down.
10:01: Florida Georgia Line are now backstage. Brian Kelley says since the award is fan voted, they’re going to take their award out on the road with them so they can share it with their fans. John Mayer has joined Brad Paisley for “Beat This Summer.” Why are so many artists getting more than one performance? I’m a fan of Shelton’s and Paisley’s but aren’t there other artists who deserved one spot? Still, I’m not even a guitar geek, but there’s something sublime about watching guitar wizards like Paisley and Mayer play together.
10:10: Co-host Bryan gets his turn now with “Crash My Party.” I like him better on his faster numbers.
10:19: Trisha Yearwood, who looks great, introduces Kelly Clarkson, who sings “Don’t Rush.” A back-up singer is performing Vince Gill’s part. His not showing up is way more disappointing than Joe Diffie not showing up for “1994”… or as someone just wrote on FB, “diff-appointing.”
10:30: Jason Aldean wins male artist of the year. Trying to decide if that’s a big loss for Shelton, although Aldean is also deserving. This follows Jewel’s nice performance of “Hands” for the “Lifting Lives” segment. She’s also performing from the Orleans and since she sounds fine, it’s clear the sound at the MGM is the problem.
10:32: It’s time for the tribute to Dick Clark featuring Brooks and Strait. Brooks is singing “The Dance,” as photos of Clark with various country artist roll by. He looks and sounds great, so the problem is definitely with full bands.He recedes into the background as Strait sings “The Cowboy Rides Away,” very shortly joined by Brooks. It’s appropriate without being maudlin, plus Brooks is clearly delighted to be singing with his idol.Would love to hear them do more together.
10:44: Miranda Lambert wins female vocalist of the year. She cries, but it’s because she realized her dream by hanging with Kelly Clarkson, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill last night. She wears her heart on her sleeve and that’s part of what makes her so endearing.
10:47: Hunter Hayes is singing “I Want Crazy,” a new song. I’m not completely sold on him yet, but he certainly has promise and he has put in so much hard work already. He plays something like 32 instruments. He’s now performing “Sir Duke” with Stevie Wonder. I don’t know how you ever top that if you’re an artist. Given the grin on Hayes’ face, he may realize that too.
10:49: Eric Church is backstage. “I think our career is going to be pre-Chief and post-Chief for us,” he says referencing how this album really took his career to a new level. He admits album of the year is the one award he wanted the most. Church just released a live album. He felt it was the right time to go back and revisit a small venue for the project as he becomes an arena headliner. “There’s no critic, no fan” that can put more creative pressure on himself for the next album, he says Church, who played Metallica’s Orion Festival last year, will be on Lollapalooza this year. “I feel like genres are gone in music, in the satellite age, genres are gone. There’s good music and there’s bad music.” He called his Orion audience “one of the best audiences we’ve had.”
10:57: A very emotional Luke Bryan wins entertainer of the year. It’s such a sweet reaction that even Miranda Lambert, who just lost, as did her husband, is crying. “I don’t know what to say, guys. Thank you guys so much, fans… thank you so much for making my life what is is. All I ever wanted to be was a country singer who got to ride on a tour bus and show on a stage every night.” He’s now running through the laundry list now, but it’s incredibly sweet and moving. “Every time I step on stage it is a blessing for me to play for fans…this is the defining moment of my life.” Best moment of the night, hands down.
11:01: That well-known country artist Stevie Wonder is closing the show with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” with Hunter Hayes on drums (to my point earlier). Bryan and Shelton are singing with him, but Bryan is still too shell shocked to really do much.
11:05: The show’s over, but we still have folks coming backstage, including Miranda Lambert, so hopefully, we’re not done yet!
11:15: Jason Aldean says he was pretty surprised to win best male vocalist, which is typical for an artist to say, but this was a hard category to call. “It was shocking, but very cool. It was something I always hoped I would win.” It’s a big time for Aldean: he sold out University of Ga’s stadium and will be playing it next week with Luke Bryan. He now joins George Strait, Garth Brooks, and Kenny Chesney as one of the few country artists who can sell out a stadium. “I was the guy who grew going to all those shows, at the point in my career where we”re able to do that is kind of crazy.”
11:25: Stevie Wonder and Hunter Hayes are working on some material together, Wonder says backstage. Hayes is appropriately speechless when Wonder raves about him, saying, “This young man is a blessing to country music and to America because he really has listened to all kinds of music. I see God working in him.”
11:40: Miranda Lambert is as giddy and delightful backstage as she was on. She’s quick to clarify that Shelton did not see her naked this morning. “There’s no time for that the day of the ACMs,” she says. Her win for female vocalist marked her fourth consecutive trophy in that category: “I can”t fathom that.. I can”t comprehend anything that”s happening right now. I was rooting for Carrie [Underwood], I”m such a fans of hers. I”m so jealous of her voice and her legs.”
11:50: Luke Bryan is still on cloud nine. He came back to the press room and answered every single question, telling the handlers who were trying to rush him that he was not done yet. “When you”re in a category with Taylor Swift, you have to put her… there”s no competing” he says, when asked what he honestly thought his chance were of winning artist of the year. “I thought it was Taylor”s award. Gosh knows, I cannot even believe it”s happening. This is so unattainable that you can”t legitimately get it in your head that you might get it.” As far as how he did as a co-host: “I feel like I knocked it out of the ball park.”