Oh, CMT Music Awards. You’re a night where one man (our friend Dierks Bentley) brings his dog Jake as his date and another (Toby Keith) gets bleeped for saying the words “Long Dong Donkey” while discussing what his rap name could be with his co-presenter, T-Pain. A night where a young woman (Taylor Swift) could win the biggest award of the evening, Video of the Year, for a sweet song like “Love Story,” and another (nope, still Taylor Swift) could close the show essentially stripper dancing while re-creating her CMT Crossroads “Pour Some Sugar on Me” duet with Def Leppard. A night where “Start a Band” collaborators Brad Paisley and Keith Urban actually accept their award from ventriloquist Terry Fator and his dummy Vicky the cougar. Here, a closer look at the best and worst of the fan-voted 2009 CMT Music Awards:
Best moment in host Bill Engvall’s opening: The video where he crushed Taylor Swift’s dream of hosting the show. You see, her dreams always come true. Cue her insisting that she be in the new Star Trek movie even though it’s already been released and her collaborating with T-Pain on the rap track “Thug Story.” Watch it above.
Worst moment in host Bill Engvall’s opening: When Bill mistakenly thought that the audience would laugh at this joke: “Do you know what Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and John Rich all have in common? At one point or another this year, they all had to be bailed out.” Crickets. Except for in my living room. He continued. “But last week John Rich said on Larry King that he might run for the governor of Tennessee in 2010. It’s not that he likes politics that much, he just thinks it will be easier than asking for a pardon.” Half the audience grew a sense of humor.
Best acceptance speech: Hands down, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. Urban was clearly creeped out by Vicky, which was adorable. (Through the miracle of our live blog, I was able to ask EW’s Whitney Pastorek, who was backstage in Nashville, to ask Paisley if he knew why. “It has to do with when he was young he was attacked by a ventriloquist dummy,” he said. “When he was asleep as a little boy.”) Onstage, when Paisley first took the mic, he quipped “First of all, Martina’s shorter than I thought,” noting the resemblance between Vicky and Martina McBride. Ha. When Urban ended their “thank you”s by encouraging kids to learn how to play a real guitar, Paisley followed up with “Rock Band never got anybody a date. Never.” (Runner-up: Kid Rock, who said the Wide Open Country Video of the Year buckle he accepted for “All Summer Long” must have been based on creativity. “Because what’s more creative than a strip pole on a pontoon boat?”) For a full list of winners click here.
Worst presenter patter: Honestly, pretty much every pairing was painful. From Bill O’Reilly and Naomi Judd (who may have insinuated that O’Reilly had bad breath before they introduced Trace Adkins) to poor Alison Krauss and Ted Nugent (they talked about hunting or something — you couldn’t pay me to rewind). The only bright spot was Melissa Peterson and Dierks Bentley. She borrowed some of Taylor Swift’s determination and laid one on him. “Wow, I thought that was supposed to be on the cheek. You, uh, got me on that one,” he said. “It was my dream. Don’t you step on my dream!” she answered. (She looked hot when they presented, right?)
Best dressed: Kellie Pickler. Not in the short, silver, metallic, sequined, fringe number she wore to perform, but the long, elegant, actually-covered-most-of-her-breasts gown she wore until then. Sexy but classy, Pickler. And not wearing a necklace that would compete with that gorgeous bejeweled neckline — well, done.
Worst dressed: Katie Cook. Now, I love this woman. I think she (and her red carpet cohost and fellow presenter Lance Smith) is smart and funny, which is why even when she tried to interview the notoriously quiet Alan Jackson, I wasn’t worried. (She finally asked him about his most recent car purchase and he gave a full sentence.) She deserves a dress that doesn’t make her look like she’s going to the prom on a budget and shoes that actually match.
Best song to dance to: Tie between Lady Antebellum’s “Lookin’ For a Good Time” or Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country” (with special guest guitarist Keith Urban). I can’t decide. Disqualification: “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” I don’t know why, because I’m not usually a prude, but Taylor Swift’s hip action and 13 hair tosses made me so uncomfortable I couldn’t enjoy that duet. It also could’ve been because she sounded kinda karaoke.
Worst song to dance to: Darius Rucker’s “Alright.” I even found his tame dancing slightly uncomfortable, but just because I’ve never seen a male country artist dance. I couldgrow to like it if the song is better than “Alright,” which I don’tthink would be any kind of a hit for anyone who hadn’t been famousbefore its release. Also, while pretty much everyone on the main stage in the first half of the show had pitch problems — maybe there was something wrong with their earpieces or my television? — Darius was consistently flat and no amount of dancing or enthusiasm could hide that. (Runner-up: Rascal Flatts’ “Summer Nights,” which I still insist sounds like something off the High School Musical 2 soundtrack.)
Best haircut: Jason Michael Carroll! Now shoulder-length! He was the B-stage performer I was happiest to see. Having those up-and-coming artists play us to commercial was a nice way to get them exposure without me having to listen to an entire Carter Twins song.
Worst haircut: Or lack thereof: Trace Adkins. Look at Jason. See how pretty you could look.
Best way to tell that you’re watching the CMT Music Awards rather than the MTV Movie Awards: The only two movies I remember being advertised were, not surprisingly, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Worst way to tell that you’re watching the CMT Music Awards rather than the MTV MovieAwards: The biggest movie star in the house still gets to present the final award, but it’s not Denzel Washington, it’s “Hollywood heartthrob Luke Wilson.”
Best way to be reminded that someone can actually sing: Okay, this Brad Paisley performance wasn’t entirely memorable, but the album cut of “Then” is. He’s more than a quick wit and a great guitar player.
Worst way to be reminded that someone can actually sing: I’m split on Sugarland’s decision to perform “Love Shack” with the B-52’s. I’m willing to follow Jennifer Nettles anywhere because she and Trisha Yearwood are my favorite female vocalists — and I appreciate that she is all about the love and fun and being country music’s best female dancer — but I’d rather have heard a Sugarland song. The real saving grace, however: When Nettles told Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson “Let’s Bang” and Fred Schneider said “Knock a little louder, Sugarland!” Awesome. Also, when they all talked to Whitney backstage. Asked about “Love Shack” crossing over to country, Kate said: “Tin roof, rusted? How much more country can you get?” Nettles said: “Good music is good. It’s no longer defined bysome image or lifestyle. It’s about what makes you feel good. And theseguys make us feel good.” And Kristian Bush (who got to sing!) said he wants to do a concert in Atlanta with other Georgia bands: Sugarland, B-52’s,R.E.M., and Indigo Girls…
Best plug of the night: The commercial for the CMT Crossroads of Jason Aldean and Bryan Adams that premieres June 26. They duet on each other’s songs, and the montage we were shown looked like this could be up there with Sugarland and Bon Jovi.
Worst plug of the night: Three-way tie between CMT’s The Singing Bee and Can You Duet and whatever movie Luke Wilson was there to promote. Could not tell you its title if it meant that I got to sit on the aisle of the row where Keith Urban performed part of “Sweet Thing.” (I love when he goes into the cheap seats like that.)
That’s my take. Your turn.
More country music:
Whitney Pastorek’s live blog of the 2009 CMT Music Awards
EW’s Music Mix Blog: Brad Paisley Q&A
Dierks Bentley takes the EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Jason Aldean takes the EW Pop Culture Personality Test