By Chris Willman
Updated November 08, 2007 at 12:00 PM EST
Frank Mullen/

Reporters on the red carpet at last night’s CMA Awards were about to pack up their notebooks when some unexpected news came down. “Keith is doing the carpet,” whispered Keith Urban’s publicist. He waited a beat. “With Nicole.” Maybe you had to be there, or maybe you just had to have seen Urban bristle at personally probing questions in press conferences at previous awards shows, to appreciate the near-seismic gravity of this moment. And sure enough, Urban and Nicole (and, yes, that would be Kidman) had barely made it to the print section outside Nashville’s Sommet Center when a question was blurted out that made it appear that their newfound faith in the Fourth Estate might go unrewarded.

“Are you working on a baby?” yelled out a reporter from a weekly gossip magazine. “Oh my God,” groaned the scribe next to him, nearly as loudly. But Urban took it in better stride than he might’ve a couple years ago. “Are you?” he quipped — and, getting a gander of the unique combination of hair colorings on the balding reporter’s head, added, “I want to see your baby, with the little pink and gray hair.” Then, the perfect segue to a plug for his forthcoming greatest-hits package, the title of which was perhaps conceived to come in handy at moments just like this. “We’ve got 18 Kids coming out Nov. 20, so that’s as far as we’ve got,” Urban said. I asked Kidman, who’d also accompanied her husband to the previous evening’s BMI Awards, if she had any qualms about realizing that she was in for an entire lifetime of attending country-awards shows. But she wasn’t about to admit to any dread. “I love it here. It’s very, very easy for me here in Tennessee, and everyone’s been very welcoming, so it’s nice,” she said, looking like Princess Grace, newly alighted in Monaco. Then Keith said thanks, and shot me a look that I swear was meant to say: Bless you, despite your lame question, for at least not inquiring after our breeding rituals.

addCredit(“Urban and Kidman: Frank Mullen/”)

Kate Walsh (of Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomyfame) was one of a succession of co-hosts on the officially host-freeshow. Before this year, the CMAs were broadcast on CBS, and the networkalways made sure to push a number of its daytime drama talent onto theshow. At least ABC, which won rights to the perennially well-ratedkudocast, was willing to lend Nashville more of its prime-time stars.But since she was the one person on the show with no ostensibleconnection to country , it was time to put her to the test on the redcarpet. Is she a fan of the music? “I’ve always loved country and western.” Bzzzzztt! — sorry, Kate, but that “…and western” tag is the sure sign of a filthy Yankee carpetbagger. Let’s try again. Who do you like in the genre? “My mom loved Hank Williams…. I love Lucinda Williams, and lovedCrystal Gayle when I was growing up.” Our hand was nearing the buzzeragain; Lucinda is great, but has as much chance of being invited to theCMAs as T-Pain. Anybody else? “I went to see Johnny Cash inconcert at the House of Blues in L.A. and he actually kissed my hand.It was pretty much the most exciting moment of my life.” Hmm. Yourcountry passport still isn’t exactly in order, Kate, but you seem warmand charming, and you are busting out a Dolce & Gabbana bustierinstead of trying to be phony and cowboy up for the occasion…. So sure,go on in.

Last year, when I talked to Sheryl Crow on the carpet, she waspromising to do a country album next. But based on some statementsshe’d already made about the CD she has coming in early ’08, I had afeeling she wasn’t going to make good on that right now. “No,” shelaughed. “I just could not edit myself on this — it’s really political,and I’m sure that country radio will be going, ‘Maybe not this record.’But I’m real happy with it. It’s very direct about at least how I feelthings are going in the world and also what’s happened to me the lastcouple of years — the end of a relationship and adopting a baby. Iadopted Wyatt maybe three weeks before I started the record…. Even theones that are personal tie into the more political stuff.” Here was onebig surprise: Though she became estranged from some of thecollaborators who worked on her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club,shortly after it came out, that disc’s producer, Bill Bottrell,returned to man things this time around. “We had an unbelievable time,”she assured us of the hell-freezes-over reunion. “Good wine wasflowing.”

Arriving on the carpet independent of one another were MichelleBranch and Jessica Harp, of the Wreckers. They’ve said they’re onhiatus and both making solo albums, though their separateness duringthe evening had some wondering if the split might be longer thanannounced. Branch “started about a month ago” with producer JohnShanks; asked if this would be a return to the pop style of her firsttwo records, she affirmed, “It’s gonna be a country record.” Harp, forher part, is working with producer Byron Gallimore and says her soloalbum will “probably be even a little more modern country than theWreckers album was.” They were up for the duo award, but Harp saw thewriting on the wall. “I think tonight is Sugarland’s night. I’m hopingit’s Sugarland’s night. Is it bad to hope? I think they deserve it, sothat’s my vote.” Her vote counted, since Sugarland did win, afterBrooks & Dunn owned that category for 14 of the last 15 years. Italked to Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush on the carpet, who refusedto believe the prognosticating that her former trio had the duo deal inthe bag. “We are imagining that Brooks & Dunn will win theirgajillionth award and another sweep of it all,” insisted Nettles. “Ifwe win, it’ll be because Kix and Ronnie voted for us,” added Bush. Oh,false modesty will get you everywhere in this town.