Image Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesHi howdy, Mixers, and welcome back to the teal-green embrace of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada — try the veal! — for the 2010 Academy of Country Music Awards. As usual, EW is on the scene bringing you the rundown from rehearsals, which today featured a lot of men doing man things until the arrival of one very ambitious blonde and her tireless dance crew. Read on for more info on performances from Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Jack Ingram, and please enjoy my bonus interviews with Blake Shelton and Laura Bell Bundy. Hint: One of those two artists has a man-crush on Trace. And I’d say, “It’s not the one you’d think,” but actually, it’s totally the one you’d think.
12:10 p.m. Trace Adkins is on stage drinking a bottle of water. He is wearing a crunched-up black cowboy hat, loose (for him) jeans, and an untucked black oxford shirt. His hair is down. Trace Adkins is an extremely imposing man.
12:14 p.m. Blake Shelton has joined Trace to rehearse their number, Blake’s recently-released “Hillbilly Bone.” I believe this song is a euphemism, though I do not know for what.
12:20 p.m. Above the stage, a diamond-shaped frame is hanging from the grid. In the center of the frame is a diamond-shaped video screen. Right now, as we wait for Trace and Blake to reset, the video screen is showing a sort of red pulsating lava pattern. I do not want to say it looks vaginal, because I am from Texas and we don’t say such things. But one might say that, if one were so inclined.
12:31 p.m. Blake and Trace are running through “Hillbilly Bone” again. They appear to genuinely enjoy each other in a very macho sort of way, but this song needs a kick-line of chorus girls or something. Chorus girls dressed up like guns. Speaking of: Laura Bell Bundy coming up later!
12:32 p.m. My favorite part of this rehearsal is Blake’s fiddle player, who is on stage sans fiddle. She is very enthusiastically miming along instead. She is also about one-third the size of Trace Adkins.
12:35 p.m. “All right, folks, we’re going to do a pyro test on the stage. This is going to happen twice during the number. Fire in the hole center stage in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”
12:44 p.m. Third and final run-through. The pyro went off at the end, kind of looked/sounded like the stage sneezed. A production staffer comes up to talk to Trace and Blake after the number and while my hearing is not perfect I think the conversation started like this:
Staffer: “How are you guys?
Trace: “Well, I’ve got a rash down in my nether-regions…”
1 p.m. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Blake Shelton:
EW: Do I have a hillbilly bone, or is that just a guy thing?
Blake: No no no! When you were asking me that question I was looking down, and those are some nice boots you’re wearing.
EW: Is that where my hillbilly bone is located? I feel like it’s something maybe I’m too prudish to understand.
Blake: Your hillbilly bone is not located where my hillbilly bone is located. Know what I’m sayin? It’s not necessarily a gender thing. But everybody’s hillbilly bone is located in a different spot.
EW: Can you pinpoint that location when you meet people?
Blake: Not exactly, but it’s a good excuse for staring at certain parts of a person’s body. And it’ll be like, “Hey, dude, what are you looking at?” and then I’ll say, “Oh, no! I was — I think that’s probably where your hillbilly bone is.” And then we strike up a conversation.
EW: You clearly have a deep affection for Trace.
Blake: Who doesn’t?
EW: Man-crush levels, or just respect and admiration?
Blake: You know, I don’t mind telling you I’m a straight guy, about as straight as you can get, I think. I used to think. Until I started spending a lot of time around Trace Adkins. And he definitely brings out a side in me I didn’t know I had. He’s just so… manly. In a way that makes me feel girly. That’s the only way I can explain it.
EW: How did you feel like the “six-pack” album concept [his six-track EP also conveniently named Hillbilly Bone] worked out for you? Did it accomplish what you were hoping?
Blake: I think it worked. I’d like to release more than one single off the next one, and that’s a matter of figuring out how to make that thing work financially for the record company. We know for the most part fans were happy about it, and they could get the song that they wanted without having to buy a $12 or $14 album with seven other songs they might not ever listen to. So I think it’s definitely a good idea. I just think there’s a couple little tweaks we can do to make it even better.
EW: Are you going to bring anything to the performance that I didn’t see during rehearsal?
Blake: Me and Trace are pretty much straight-ahead country singin’ kind of guys. The only thing that we didn’t do in the rehearsal is bring our personalities with us, which when we get in front of a crowd just happens naturally.
1:52 p.m. Jason Aldean’s band is supposed to be setting up, but I don’t recognize any of these people, and I’m pretty sure this is a Brooks & Dunn song they’re warming up. My finely-honed journalistic instincts tell me we’re about to get a bonus rehearsal for the B&D tribute show being taped here Monday night.
2:02 p.m. Jason is now on stage with an acoustic, running through chords with Brooks & Dunn’s backing band while his own band watches from the audience. Question: Does the B&D drummer have two kick drums because these songs need two kick drums, or does he have two kick drums so there can be a B on one and a D on the other?
2:12 p.m. In his intro, Jason explains how excited he is to be the opening act on B&D’s “Last Rodeo” tour this summer, and how he used to play Kix and Ronnie’s stuff in bars back in Georgia. Then he and the B&D band run through the song he’ll be performing on the tribute show. [UPDATE: I’ve been asked not to reveal the songs folks are doing, because it’s a surprise for B&D.] There’s a nice little Ronnie-esque nasal gloss to Jason’s vocals.
2:25 p.m. Jack Ingram comes wandering in and we chat for a bit. He and Dierks Bentley are doing “Barbie Doll” on the show, and when I find this out I actually jump up and down and clap my hands with glee.
2:32 p.m. A pack of very lithely muscular young men and women just walked in carrying backpacks. Methinks these are Laura Bell Bundy’s dancers.
2:45 p.m. Jason Aldean has now been reunited with his band and they’re running through “Crazy Town.” I do not mean this description to be in any way belittling: It looks and sounds like a Jason Aldean performance. This dude is just solid, all the time. Meanwhile, there are half a dozen older adults standing down in the pit doing their best impersonation of Idol swaybots, I assume to give the cameras (and Jason) an idea of what will happen during the real show. The adults are sort of listlessly clapping and attempting to dance to the relatively hard-rock Aldean sound. It is hilariousy awkward and, without question, my favorite thing that has happened today.
2:57 p.m. “Crazy Town” is on run number three. Meanwhile, today’s first hot rumor is that Taylor Swift (whose rehearsal was closed to viewers yesterday) will be fearlessly flying in from the back of the arena. I do not know if this means flying like “Peter Pan: Live on Stage!” flying, or flying like “Rascal Flatts in their gondola thingy” flying. No clarification was given.
3:12 p.m. On a small cake-topper platform in the back of the room, Jack Ingram and Dierks Bentley — two former Top New Artist winners, according to the disembodied voiceover lady — crank up “Barbie Doll.” This is the rawkier reimagined version of the 10 year old song that appeared on last year’s Big Dreams & High Hopes, and the bass is making the metal bleacher underneath me rattle. The little stage is now surrounded by the adult swaybots, and my favorites are the two mature ladies wearing heavily bedazzled t-shirts and belts who are into it like they have every intention of stuffing poor Jack Ingram into their trunk and taking him home later. I mean, they are in. to. it.
3:23 p.m. As they prep for another run, Jack has a request: “So, anybody who’s just watching, can you come up here, just so we can get a better understanding of what the stage is gonna look like when it’s actually being done?” A good smattering of folks comply, though none with the enthusiasm of our sparkly female friends.
3:30 p.m. Oh my goodness! Jack Ingram has just made the dreams come true of the sparkly ladies, as well as the rest of the females standing around the cake-topper and at least one ACM intern: He just pulled them up on stage to dance alongside him and Dierks to give this whole thing a bouncing house-party feel.
3:31 p.m. Disembodied voiceover lady rattles off the numbers to text if you’d like to vote during the show for Entertainer of the Year. Somehow the notion of texting “5” to vote for George Strait just seems wrong. Not because George Strait is unworthy of an Entertainer of the Year award, just because George Strait and texting/internet voting go together about as well as thai food and a mechanical bull. I just read a thing the other day about how there are 93 million people in this country without internet access. I would wager the Venn diagram of internet-free Americans vs. George Strait’s fanbase has a lot of crossover.
3:40 p.m. The sparkly ladies and the rest of Adult Swaybot Nation are on the big stage, filling the platforms of Laura Bell Bundy’s forthcoming enormous production number. They are playing invisible brass instruments. They are making me insanely happy.
4:08 p.m. Downstairs in the dressing room interviewing Dierks Bentley as Laura Bell Bundy starts her first run-through on the monitors. “Oh my goodness,” Dierks says, as she descends from the sky on a giant golden horseshoe. (Horseshoes are her trademark.) As the performance continues — for our “extreme viewing pleasure,” says the woman who mock-introduces it — conversation grinds to a halt and we watch LBB work it. She’s wearing a headset mic so she can sing and dance at the same time. I decide it is her private tribute to Brooks & Dunn. “Woo!” she says when she finishes, clearly out of breath. “Does anybody have some water?”
4:25 p.m. Interviewed Jack Ingram. He, too, was heavily distracted by LBB as we spoke. We know she’s already conquered the gays, but I guess we’ve cleared up whether or not the straight dudes want to board this perky little bandwagon, too. If you know what I mean. Both the Dierks and the Jack interviews will be available on the Music Mix in their entirety later in the week/end.
4:37 p.m. Current discussion in arena: is LBB the Country Lady Gaga?
5:02 p.m. This time, the fake announcer lady tells us LBB is going to leave us “hungry for more.” Someone (I’m pretty sure it was LBB) yells out, “Are you making these up?” just as the music track starts to drown her out.
5:03 p.m. LBB’s male dancers are popping out of hydraulic holes in the floor — a la the Black Eyed Peas at the Grammys — and one of the holes is still open as the dance number proceeds. “There’s a hole in the floor,” says LBB, stopping the dance number. “Guys, if that happens, you’ve gotta jump out of the hole. It’s a live show,” advises a stage manager. “If he jumps out of the hole, will you shut the hole?” asks LBB.
5:09 p.m. We’re doing a pyro test, then one last full run of the LBB number. The dancers, who are milling about on stage a bit absently, are implored to watch out for the pyro. “Fire in the hole in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” and the horseshoe sneezes sparks.
5:19 p.m. Oooh. The pyro corresponds to gunshots. I got my chorus girls after all!
5:30ish p.m. Ladies and gentlemen, Laura Bell Bundy:
EW: You told me you were nervous before rehearsal started. How are the nerves now?
LBB: They’re going away. I think when you practice something, it takes away your fear. I was nervous about the horseshoe being so high up in the air, but I’m strapped in there, I’ve got a nice platform, I’ve got my arm in the hole.
EW: And it doesn’t explode until you get off it. You’re also super out of breath. Is it the singing and dancing simultaneously, or the altitude, or what?
LBB: It’s the dryness, and you know what? That song is usually three and a half minutes, and has a lot of breathing breaks in it. And in order to cut it down for the show, we cut ‘em all out. And I’m jumping. It’ll be fine. I’m not worried about it. And if it’s not fine, it’s not fine.
EW: This is going to be your introduction to a lot of the mainstream country audience. What are they going to see and think?
LBB: They’re gonna see a story song, being told with music and dance. And nothing more scandalous than a stomach. I’ve done a lot of situps. I don’t know what they’re gonna think. I’m sure there will be some people who are shocked. I’m sure there are gonna be some people who want to jump on stage. I wish they would, actually.
EW: Last thing: I heard you get played on the radio the other day…
LBB: I did?
EW: Yes. And it was introduced by the DJ as, “I don’t know a lot about this Laura Bell Bundy, but I know she’s smokin’ hot.” You okay with that?
LBB: Totally. It was not easy to look this smokin’ hot. And if I’m bustin’ my ass to look like this, I want somebody to acknowledge it.
Do you hear that, America? You’d best tune in. Do it for Lady B.B.! And come back tomorrow for more from ACM rehearsals, as Friday boasts an assortment of huge stars like Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts. Meanwhile, do leave all your very deepest thoughts in the comments, won’t you? Stimulating conversation will stop me from getting bored and spending too much time on the video poker.
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