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Backstage with the stars at the CMA Awards

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In the least-shocking election results since the presidential candidates carried their own states, Kenny Chesney was voted Entertainer of the Year at the 42nd annual CMA Awards (see our CMAs Best and Worst here). That’s four times in the last five years he’s won the top category, including the last three in a row. In past years, Chesney has tended to wax humble about the whole thing, but this year, we actually caught him acting a little cocky. “Eventually, people are gonna move on, and I know that,” he told the assembled press immediately after coming off stage.  “Ask [past Entertainers of the Year] Reba or George Strait. But to the other four acts that are nominated: I’m not gonna lay down, either….These aren’t given away. They aren’t free.”

Chesney did allow that, when it comes time to abdicate, there is one fellow nominee he’d most like to move over for. “I was especially excited for Sugarland,” he said. “I think they might win this one day. I hope they do.” So how did Sugarland, the lone newcomer among this year’s EOTY nominees, even sneak into contention, being a somewhat youngish and at least partly female act in a male-dominated category?  “We just tried to tour with every single one of the nominees,” Kristian Bush joked, “figuring then maybe they’d include us.” Jennifer Nettles played the straight woman, adding, “I guess we figured out that if you just put on a good show, you’re more likely to be nominated. So far for us, it doesn’t seem to matter how young or how female you are. We don’t really think about it in those terms.” Ah, but we do, Jennifer, we do.

There weren’t a lot of surprises this year. Cohosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood made a good George and Gracie-style team while also repeating their respective wins in the top male and top female categories; Rascal Flatts was top group for the sixth year running; and George Strait’s honors for best single and best album were widely expected. The only real suspense was for the new artist category, where vocal trio Lady Antebellum unexpectedly triumphed, even beating Jason Aldean, the guy whose tour they’re currently opening. Before the show, singer Hillary Scott assured me that Lady Antebellum had “fifth place racked up in both our categories,” those being vocal group as well as new artist. “We’re great friends with everybody in both categories,” said bandmate Charles Kelley (pictured with Scott). “Well, not the Eagles,” Scott corrected him.

More backstage CMAs coverage after the jump…

addCredit(“Bryan Bedder/Getty Images”)

Miranda Lambert represents a rare instance where critical favorites and CMA favorites suddenly overlap, and even though she was singing the rueful ballad “More Like You” on the telecast, she was nominated for “Gunpowder and Lead,” an abused woman’s country-rock revenge anthem. “It’s unbelievable to me that ‘Gunpowder and Lead’ was my first top 10 single and now it’s my first single of the year nominee,” she said just before the show. “That’s the last one I would have thought would do that, just because it is so controversial and edgy. But that just shows you that people like something a little left-of-center once in a while.”

Darius Rucker, who just became the first African-American  to have a No. 1 country single since Charlie Pride, sang his smash “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” on the telecast, though he won’t come up for nominations until next year. “I remember walking around last year feeling so out of place and trying to fit in,” he said before the show, “so it’s cool to be at my first CMAs where I really feel like part of the family.” Even unlikelier first-time CMA performers: Jamaica’s Wailers, who joined Chesney for a medley. “It’s a great pleasure being here — more than tongue can tell,” said  Wailers singer Elan Atias. “Country and reggae are very similar.” (From the aroma that preceded them by about 20 feet, the similarity to Willie Nelson was certainly apparent.)

The most effusive red-carpeteer, not unexpectedly, was Taylor Swift, the one true phenomenon to come along in country since Carrie Underwood. Thanks to some careful timing, her sophomore album had just come out the day before, and her new single, “Love Story,” had reached No. 1 at the format that same day. She was atoning for all that success by trying to weigh herself down. Her pre-show dress weighed 30 pounds, she said. “I can’t believe I could even walk to the red carpet, it’s so heavy. It’s like wearing a bag of rocks. But I’m happy to wear this bag of rocks.” Getting personal, a reporter asked Swift if she’d been in contact with ex-b.f. Joe Jonas since he’d become a topic of discussion on her recent Ellen appearance (“No, we don’t talk”) and how she felt about learning Jonas was dating actress Camille Belle (“They’ve been together since we broke up,” Swift said bluntly. “That’s why we broke up — when he met her”). Fortunately, the breakup occurred just in time for her to get a song in about him on her new album. “I think [guys] are starting to realize that if they are involved with me in any way, I probably will write a song about them,” she said. “But hey, you know what? If they don’t want me to write bad things about me, they shouldn’t do bad things.”

Miranda Lambert represents a rare instance where critical favorites and CMA favorites suddenly overlap, and even though she was singing the rueful ballad “More Like You” on the telecast, she was nominated for “Gunpowder and Lead,” an abused woman’s country-rock revenge anthem. “It’s unbelievable to me that ‘Gunpowder and Lead’ was my first top 10 single and now it’s my first single of the year nominee,” she said just before the show. “That’s the last one I would have thought would do that, just because it is so controversial and edgy. But that just shows you that people like something a little left-of-center once in a while.”

Darius Rucker, who just became the first African-American  to have a No. 1 country single since Charlie Pride, sang his smash “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” on the telecast, though he won’t come up for nominations until next year. “I remember walking around last year feeling so out of place and trying to fit in,” he said before the show, “so it’s cool to be at my first CMAs where I really feel like part of the family.” Even unlikelier first-time CMA performers: Jamaica’s Wailers, who joined Chesney for a medley. “It’s a great pleasure being here — more than tongue can tell,” said  Wailers singer Elan Atias. “Country and reggae are very similar.” (From the aroma that preceded them by about 20 feet, the similarity to Willie Nelson was certainly apparent.)

The most effusive red-carpeteer, not unexpectedly, was Taylor Swift, the one true phenomenon to come along in country since Carrie Underwood. Thanks to some careful timing, her sophomore album had just come out the day before, and her new single, “Love Story,” had reached No. 1 at the format that same day. She was atoning for all that success by trying to weigh herself down. Her pre-show dress weighed 30 pounds, she said. “I can’t believe I could even walk to the red carpet, it’s so heavy. It’s like wearing a bag of rocks. But I’m happy to wear this bag of rocks.” Getting personal, a reporter asked Swift if she’d been in contact with ex-b.f. Joe Jonas since he’d become a topic of discussion on her recent Ellen appearance (“No, we don’t talk”) and how she felt about learning Jonas was dating actress Camille Belle (“They’ve been together since we broke up,” Swift said bluntly. “That’s why we broke up — when he met her”). Fortunately, the breakup occurred just in time for her to get a song in about him on her new album. “I think [guys] are starting to realize that if they are involved with me in any way, I probably will write a song about them,” she said. “But hey, you know what? If they don’t want me to write bad things about me, they shouldn’t do bad things.”