By Whitney Pastorek
Updated April 05, 2009 at 05:32 AM EDT

4:44 p.m. Sugarland will kick off the afternoon in the Taco Bell Teal confines of the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena as soon as they get here. (Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift rehearsed this morning; both sessions were closed to media.) Meanwhile, Jake Owen is rehearsing a voiceover. Yes, America: Jake is not just a pretty, pretty face; he is also capable of saying words into a microphone. Today there are about a billion more people in here, and it’s about 15 degrees hotter.

4:50 The backing track to “What I’d Give” starts playing, and right on cue, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush walk down the aisle. Because I do not have any journalistic objectivity when it comes to this band, I am not even going to bother trying — though I’m super psyched they’re doing this song instead of “It Happens,” which is not my favorite thing ever. There are these weird lights on the stage that look a bit like the kind that hang in gyms, or mental asylums. I smell impending theatricality. Though if the lights are it, that’s fine: I actually feared there would be Cirque du Soleil. And Cirque du Soleil TERRIFIES ME.

4:57 Kristian is soundchecking his mandolin. It is infinitely nicer than the drum soundchecks from yesterday.

5:00 Sugarland publicist tells me to start making up stuff, because it’s really boring in here right now. Um. Oh! I don’t even have to make anything up: Holly Williams — daughter of Hank Jr. — got in a fight with a security guard at the Bellagio last night, punched her right in the face with her Lanvin ring. I am also told that Jamey Johnson got busted for smoking a cigarette on stage during rehearsals. What do these two stories teach us? Do not mess with Mercury Nashville’s artists, children — they will cut you.

5:02 If I am not mistaken, Kristian Bush is practicing a guitar solo. Huh.

5:09 They’re about to start the first run-thru. “Just for sound? So no blocking?” asks Nettles. Blocking??

5:13 Nettles just put on Kristian’s mandolin. Huh.

5:24 They finish the second run of the song to applause in the house. “Thank you,” says Nettles. “We know radio folks are out there, and all the fans. So enjoy the rehearsal. It’s fun for us, too. Nice to have human beings in here.”

5:32 Stage manager invites fans to come down into the “mosh pit” for the next run-thru. Dear American Idol: I hate you.

5:34 I fear Sugarland are falling victim to a really cheesy camera angle, but I am powerless to stop it.

5:46 How tedious are these rehearsals? There are three monitors at the director’s table. Two have the live feed. The other is tuned to a basketball game.

5:54 Run-thru number four. What I’d give for — nah, that joke’s too easy. Anyway. They’ve ditched much of the cheesy camera angle, and Nettles is now singing to the “mosh pit” instead. Have I fawned over this band so much I’ve inadvertently opened some sort of psychic portal to their minds?

6:00 A stand-in comes on stage to accept the award for Single Record of the Year. He ends his “speech” with, “I’d like to thank the fans. You are the best in the world!” For this, he gets wooos from the people in the “mosh pit.” Easily entertained… or really easily entertained?

6:08 Waiting for Tim McGraw…

6:11 Just found out George Strait’s rehearsal tonight is closed. Sorry, Mixers. I offered to keep his dress off the record, but still no dice.

6:28 There is a rumor afoot that Tim McGraw — who, about 30 minutes ago, was supposed to start rehearsing “Marina Del Rey” with his wife Faith Hill for Monday night’s George Strait tribute — has taken issue with something related to the production of his performance, and walked out of his earlier ACMs rehearsal. Am trying to confirm. Meanwhile, Faith has appeared on stage, and very pleasantly greeted the audience before beginning her terrific Loretta Lynn tribute.

6:31 Faith Hill just offered to bring the audience a pizza.

6:41 And as I scurry around trying to confirm the Tim rumor (he’s definitely gone…but is he coming back?), Faith is entertaining the hell out of the crowd. She’s currently singing an impromptu version of George Strait’s “Fireman.” She doesn’t know all the words, but has enough panache for two, and as Kara DioGuardi might say, that woman can sing the alphabet. Then she answers questions from the audience in the “mosh pit.” One answer: “No, I don’t own a gun. Tim might.”

7:23 It is really easy to move on from concerns about Tim McGraw’s whereabouts when Keith Urban is on stage in a baseball cap, fiddling about with some flamenco riffs on his guitar. They’ve started his rehearsal block with a medley of the legendary Marty Robbins’s songs (“El Paso”!) for the George Strait tribute.

7:33 Keith flubs his prompter copy, apologizes for being on just 3 hours sleep. But when the Robbins retrospective reel he introduced goes into loud fast-forward, he’s awake enough to deadpan, “He was also a chipmunk.” Gets the biggest laugh of the afternoon.

7:51 After a long band changeover, Keith is readying for a run-thru of “Kiss a Girl,” presumably the next single off Defying Gravity. We regret to inform you that Keith’s personal publicist just informed me that Keith will not be doing any press today, and will probably not be talking to me backstage tomorrow, either. I am trying not to take this personally, but I kind of am. Will try and grab him on the carpet for ya, Mixers — I know we have a lot of fans in the house. And now, since I am hungry and George’s rehearsal is still off limits, I’m going home.

Tomorrow night: Backstage liveblog from the telecast, hopefully with lots and lots of special celebrity guests. Come back for that, won’t you?

Photo Credit: Charley Gallay/Getty Images