The 53rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards were held Sunday (April 15th) in Las Vegas, marking a huge night for country music fans. Two things made the evening even more memorable than usual ahead of the broadcast.
One, artists and fans were returning to Vegas six months after a gunman killed 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Two, Carrie Underwood took to the stage for the first time since her November accident which resulted in multiple injuries, including one requiring dozens of stitches to her face.
- Held inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and broadcast live on CBS, Reba McEntire served as the evening’s host (her 15th time in the saddle!). She made headlines earlier this year by becoming KFC’s first female Colonel Harland Sanders, and she kept viewers on their toes all night, delivering a fun-filled show with plenty of laughter and light to counterbalance some of the more serious moments.
- The evening kicked off with a somber moment when Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett opened the show by talking about the healing power of music.
- “Music helps us remember what really matters in life,” said Bryan.
- Morris added, “Music does so much more than provide an escape from the pain. It inspires us, it soothes us and it makes us stronger.”
- Aldean added that in honor of Las Vegas shooting victims and their family and friends, “We celebrate music tonight.”
- McEntire quickly had the audience laughing through the tears by gently ribbing her previous hosts Bryan and Dierks Bentley and catching everyone up on a year’s worth of baby and marriage gossip.
- Jason Aldean was named Entertainer of the Year, while Lambert snagged awards for Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year.
- Chris Stapleton stole the show without even being there, by winning the ACM Album of the Year for “From a Room: Volume 1,” and welcoming twins at the same time (McEntire accepted the award on his behalf and delivered the good news from the stork to a shocked and delighted audience).
- It’s safe to say Sunday is a day Stapleton will always remember. (It was also his 40th birthday!) It’s been a big year for him in general: he released two top-selling albums last year, and was the top nominee at the ACMs with eight.
- Entertainer of the year: Jason Aldean
- Male vocalist of the year: Chris Stapleton
- Single record of the year: “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt
- Female vocalist of the year: Miranda Lambert
- Vocal event of the year: “The Fighter” by Keith Urban
- Vocal group of the year: Old Dominion
- Album of the year: “From a Room: Vol. 1” by Chris Stapleton
- Song of the year: “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
- New female vocalist of the year: Lauren Alaina
- New male vocalist of the year: Brett Young
- New vocal duo or group of the year: Midland
- Songwriter of the year: Rhett Akins
- Kenny Chesney kicked off the fun with the television debut of the song “Get Along.”
- Maren Morris gave a spirited performance of “Rich” wearing, aptly, a golden gown. (In front of a larger-than-life lit-up neon sign that also read “Rich.”)
- With 10 no, 1 singles under his belt, a confident Chris Young brought a soulful, stripped-down version of “Losing Sleep” to the stage, his vocals accompanied only by two guitars.
- Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha performed a dazzling “Meant To Be,” against a starry backdrop and swaying backup singers.
- Brett Young, who won for the Award for New Male Vocalist, performed “In Case You Didn’t Know.”
- Alan Jackson and Jon Pardi had everyone singing with an infectious toe-tapping rendition of “Chattahoochee.”
- Lady Antebellum delivered a heartfelt “Heart Break.”
- Dierks Bentley, in all black delivered a rock n’ roll rendition of “Woman, Amen,” against a backdrop of black and white photos of real, strong women (think police officers, doctors, mothers). Then he clinched it by descending from the stage to embrace his wife Cassidy Black. (Bryan attempted to cut in, but Bentley playfully rebuffed him).
- Blake Shelton performed a thoughtful, nostalgic rendition of “I Lived It.”
- Kane Brown featuring Lauren Alaina sang “What Ifs” against a blue sky, thrashing ocean, amid swirling mist. Afterwards, they introduced a segment about ACM Lifting Lives, a philanthropic arm of the ACM that has been instrumental in the recovery following the Las Vegas shooting.
- Keith Urban sang and swayed his way through a theatrical “Coming Home,” with the lyrics written over filmed scenes of life on the road, urban landscapes, a hand strumming a guitar, ocean vistas and embracing friends and family. Julia Michaels joined him onstage.
- Kelsea Ballerini was lowered down to the stage from the ceiling in a neon heart to perform “I Hate Love Songs,” and stripping off her sparkling pink ball-gown mid-song in favor of a bedazzled jeans, a white tank and white hi-tops as rose petals descended.
- Jason Aldean sang “You Make It Easy.”
- Miranda Lambert performs a fiery (in every sense) “Keeper of the Flame” as multiple forms of explosive spark shot forth from the stage.
- Little Big Town played their eerie, exquisite countrified take on the Elton John classic “Rocket Man,” all while wearing equally compelling and otherworldly sequined suits and furs in front of extraterrestrial scenes.
- Blake Shelton and Toby Keith kicked it old school with “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” The audience was definitely there for it, singing along, dancing and guzzling brews.
- After winning New Vocal Group, Midland got up to sing “Drinkin’ Problem.”
- Carrie Underwood looked more stunning—and confident—than ever performing “Cry Pretty.” She got a standing ovation.
- Dan + Shay perform an acoustic “Tequila” with a lot of help from backup singers and the audience.
- Darius Rucker sang “For the First Time.”
- Thomas Rhett delivered a heartfelt “Marry Me.”
- Luke Bryan brought an uplifting “Most People Are Good.”
- New female vocalist of the year Lauren Alaina performs an enthusiastic “Doin’ Fine.”
- Kelly Clarkson steps up to introduce mother-in-law Reba McEntire for a mesmerizing rendition of “Does He Love You.” Clarkson then joins her onstage and the pair sing the sultry number, pulling off what could be a weirdly tense duet considering their IRL relationship, with their trademark grace. (And for fans doing a double take … yep, that is the same scandalous red dress McEntire wore in 1993 at the CMA Awards, and yep, it’s still smoking hot).
- Chris Janson closes out the broadcast with a rocking rendition of “Redneck Life.”
In clip one, Ashton Kutcher and Sam Elliott present Vocal Event of the Year.
- [“As country fans, we’re so grateful to all of the artists who have both appeared on our show The Ranch, and allowed us to showcase their great music. This next award is for vocal event. I mean, to be honest, any time Sam Elliott speaks, it’s a vocal event. Funny. Now, here are the artists who gave us unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”] SOUNDCUE (:35 OC: . . .once-in-a-lifetime experiences.)
In clip two, Jason Aldean accepts Entertainer of the Year.
- [“Thank you, thank you. A lot of people to thank, I mean the record company, broken bones, maverick, my management, the green room, somebody always forgets to thank Brian o’connel, live nation who has been with me my whole career as far as tours go. Michael knot, my wife, I love you. My three good luck charms at home. Love you guys. Keely Kendall Memphis. It’s been a rough year. I just want to say thanks to everybody that reached out to us, that showed us love and support over the last six months. It meant the world to us. My route 91 people, you guys are in our hearts always, I love you guys. And we love Las Vegas. Make us strong, baby. Thank you.”] SOUNDCUE (1:05 OC: . . .strong, baby. Thank you.)
In clip three, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Maren Morris, and Thomas Rhett open the evening on a serious note.
- [“On this night, our country community, the people here in Las Vegas, and all of you at home are united through the healing power of music. For those of us who have experienced tragedy and unexpected loss, music helps us remember what really matters in life. Music does so much more than provide an escape from the pain, it inspires us, it soothes us, and it makes us stronger. It gives us the chance to rejoice in what we have and tells us that there is always a reason to carry on. With respect and love for the victims, our friends, family, and fans, we celebrate the music tonight. America, this is your ACM awards.”] SOUNDCUE (:52 OC: . . .your ACM awards.)
In clip four, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood accept award for Vocal Event of the Year.
- [“You just knocked it out of the park. It was such a pleasure to do this song with Carrie Underwood, thank you so much for writing this with me Busbee and producing it, a love you so much, and our girls watching at home, and country music radio, thank you for all your support as well. Thank you for having me, I’m still kind of– thank you guys, thank you country radio, fans, oh my gosh, thank you. Everybody at the label, I love you, Gary Bullman, the fans, you’re the best, god bless you all.”] SOUNDCUE (:34 OC: . . .bless you all.)
In clip five, Kelly Clarkson introduces Reba McEntire.
- [“What’s up, everybody. I’m thrilled to be a part of this final acm flashback moment of the night because I get to not only sing with one of my friends but also one of my musical heroes. Very, very excited for me. We first sang this song 16 years ago right here in Las Vegas. I was terrified. I totally sucked, she was so nice though afterwards but since then she has become more than just a dear friend, she is now family. Performing her five-time A.C.M. Nominated number one hit, Does he love you, M.G.M., let’s hear it for Reba McEntire.”] SOUNDCUE (:35 OC: . . .hear it for Reba McEntire.)
In clip six, Miranda Lambert accepts award for Female Vocalist of the Year.
- [“I cannot believe this. I really can’t. Thank you so much. I love country music T is my entire life, I dedicate everything I have to it. And for y’all to care so much about what MI doing, I will never, ever take it for granted. Thank you so, so much, praise Jesus, thank y’all.”] SOUNDCUE (:20 OC: . . .Jesus, thank y’all.)
In clip seven, Miranda Lambert accepts award for Song of the Year.
- [“Thank you guys so much for sharing my broken heart with me, my good friends from Texas, Jackie and Jon, y’all say something, please. Have I to say Jessie Alexander, I love you so much. Thank you for letting me do this. Thank you for letting daddy run out and go to Texas and play cowboys with these guys. And I’m honored to be up here with two of my favorite people in the whole world. Thank you. For every song I’ve ever written, for every song that we wrote T leads to the next song and that leads you to the next. You never know what is going to happen with these things am but follow your heart and good things do. Thank you.”] SOUNDCUE (:41 OC: . . .things do. Thank you.)
In clip eight, Old Dominion accepts award for Vocal Group of the Year.
- [“Wow, this is, this is heavy. In a lot of ways. A lot of people that make a lot of sacrifices in order for us to be where we are right now. And you know, our families, our management team, our label 6789. We’re so lucky, man. Look at us. Look at us! We match and everything. We look good, we feel good, we’re friends and we’re having a ballment and we just thank you for letting us make music. Thank you for that.”] SOUNDCUE (:42 OC: . . .Thank you for that.)
In clip nine, Reba McEntire accepts award for Album of the Year on behalf of Chris Stapleton.
- [“Congratulations, Chris, on winning this award. Thank y’all very much. I want to second that, Chris, congratulations am but that’s only the second biggest news. You no know Chris couldn’t be here because Morgan is expecting twins. We just found out that those little rascals came a little bit early. Hot off the press, yeah. Twin boys. No, wait a minute, I’m kidding you. So Chris, congratulations to you, Morgan and to big brother and sister and of course congratulations on winning this award. And happy birthday, Chris. We’re very proud of y’all.”] SOUNDCUE (:45 OC: . . .very proud of y’all.)
In clip ten, Reba McEntire gets the party started.
- [“Welcome to the acm awards and it’s great to be back as your host. Thank you. You know, I first hosted this show in 1986 to put that in perspective not only was Kelsey Ballerini not born, her parents weren’t even dating yet. This year I’m following some guys that have done such a great job as host, Luke and Dierks. And before that, Luke and Blake. I guess they finally figured out that it only takes one woman to do the job of two men.”] SOUNDCUE (:47 OC: . . .the job of two men.)
In clip eleven, Reba McEntire gives the Rhett family a shoutout.
- [“I go way back with the Akins family, so I want to tell you about a very special award that was given out Friday night, acm songwriter of the year went to red Akins. Last year his son Thomas Rhett won three acm’s which just proves talent is a gift from god and runs in the family. Have I known you ever since you was a little bitty boy. I’m so proud of you. I have known most of these kids since they were little, don’t tell anybody. Anyway, very proud of y’all.”] SOUNDCUE (:39 OC: . . .very proud of y’all.)
In clip twelve, Reba McEntire introduces Carrie Underwood.
- [“Hey, let’s go to Oklahoma. I want to give a big shout out to my brother and to my mama. They are a little under the weather today and I want to tell them that I love them and I hope that they get to feeling better soon. Speaking of Oklahoma, she’s won 13acm’s, is a two-time entertaineof the year and is nominated twice tonight. It is so great to see my fellow Okie back on this stage, even though I’m still sore from that body check. Here to perform her brand new single Cry Pretty Carrie Underwood.”] SOUNDCUE (:33 OC: . . .Cry Pretty Carrie Underwood.)
In clip thirteen, Reba McEntire reminds the audience who’s in charge.
- [“We’re back, live in las Vegas. Get on Blake Shelton, he was not in his seat. During the break I looked up another one of those fun facts about, you know, those websites, and I looked up Jason aldean. Jayson is the… Jason is the one who let the world know that Luke Bryan has the initials of his wife tattooed on his back side. Which raises the question, two questions, matter of fact, why did Luke do it, and how does Jason know?“] SOUNDCUE (:41 OC: . . .how does Jason know?)
Brett Young on New Male Vocalist win: [“It probably sounds cliche to say and I know people say that all the time but I think it already felt like a win when they named the category. Just to be mentioned amongst some of the people that I’m a really big fan of already so to get the win was really special and it was fun. I didn’t even have to give like a speech or anything, so I’ll take my first win and like get to eliminate the speech and all that stress so it was a pretty fun experience.”] SOUNDCUE (:23 OC: . . . pretty fun experience.)
Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey on Vocal Group win: [“It’s gonna take a little time to process that. You know, it was just kind of strange to stand in that and see it all from that perspective cause we’ve been here for a few years now and seen it from the seats and then . . . and seen it from the stage as performers, too, before but to stand there with a little microphone is a different thing, and to see like all the people, all our peers out there, people that we’ve known for years and people we’ve written songs for and people we’ve toured with smiling, it means a lot. This is gonna take a little bit to set in.”] SOUNDCUE (:31 OC: . . . to set in.)
Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey on beating out good friends Little Big Town for Vocal Group: [“Awkward . . . (laughter) No, they’re a big part of why we’re here. I mean, they are the rare occurrence of the sweetest people and the most talented people and so they kind of show everyone how it’s done and so we’re lucky that this year we got it. I’m sure that next year they will get it (laughs), but this one’s ours, and we saw them and they were so supportive and gave us a hug and threatened to punch me in the face and all in good humor, and we’re just a big family so it’s great.”] SOUNDCUE (:38 OC: . . . so it’s great.)
Miranda Lambert on being most-winning ACM artist ever with 30 wins: [“I really can’t believe it. I just always try to live in the moment I’m in and then make myself better and try to be better every other time. I try to reinvent and try to be a better writer, a better singer and a better performer and just a better person all around, I guess, and so I don’t dwell on any of the past, but standing here knowing that it’s really a lot of pressure but I know that it’s so important that I keep that attitude that I’ve had because it’s why I’m standing here right now and it’s because of amazing women that have stood here before me, really it is, and that’s why it was special to perform ‘Keeper Of The Flame’ tonight for sure.”] SOUNDCUE (:35 OC: . . . tonight for sure.)
Midland’s Mark Wystrach on taking home New Vocal Group award: [“It’s just been a celebration for us. We’ve been running at a million miles an hour for the last kind of four years and it’s just surreal. It’s hard to process it, where we started and where we’ve come from to this stage is remarkable and we’re just really having the time of our lives.”] SOUNDCUE (:17 OC: . . . of our lives.)
Lauren Alaina on feeling the love from peers after winning first ACM award for New Female Vocalist: [“I’ve never felt so loved in all of my life. I mean, I’ve been out for a long time and three years ago I couldn’t even walk the carpet. I was ineligible to walk the carpet and now I won New Female Vocalist of the Year and I had another nominated and I got to walk that carpet with pride, and hug everyone along the way and really feel . . . I felt like a winner when I got the call from Reba, obviously, but the love I’ve felt since I’ve been in Vegas has been unbelievable and I’m just really proud of my team and that we stuck it out and we got a win so . . . I’m gonna cry. I’m always gonna cry. Sorry, but I’m really proud.”] SOUNDCUE (:49 OC: . . . I’m really proud.)
Jason Aldean on taking home Entertainer award in Vegas in wake of Route 91 Harvest Festival tragedy: [“You know, for the one horrible night we had here I’ve had a million great ones and tonight was a million and one. It’s like I’ve had some really big moments in my career happen here and I love this town, I love this city. It’s a little different vibe for us coming back here but winning that award after everything that’s gone on, I mean, obviously — and I said it tonight on stage — all the support that we got from the Country music community and just everybody. I mean, I had Bono from U2 and like Ashton Kutcher, who was here tonight, and all the people in the Country music world. I mean, we had everybody reaching out to us, and were really supportive of us, and man, it really helped us to get through that knowing that people cared enough to reach out to us, so all that going down, it made it definitely special tonight, for sure.”] SOUNDCUE (:46 OC: . . . tonight, for sure.)
Reba McEntire on the upbeat tone of the ACM Awards show: [“Well, it was a joint effort. Everybody said it’s gotta be fun. We’re gonna leave politics out. We’ve got a bunch of people here who are hurting, who need our support and our love and our prayers, and one thing that music does, it’s very healing, and so we needed to really centralize all of our attention on that instead of making jokes that were to hurt people or to embarass or anything. We didn’t want any part of that. We wanted to come out and have fun for those people. They’ve had a rough time since October, and we’re here to entertain. That’s our job.”] SOUNDCUE (:32 OC: . . . That’s our job.)