April 18, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesIt was a good night for you if you like Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, and exposed midriffs. Not so great if you wanted to actually hear Brooks and Dunn sing. That’s the thing about the Academy of Country Music Awards show, held in Las Vegas on Sunday: It’s frequently more loose and surprising than the other awards show from the Country Music Association.

The country music industry may block Reba McEntire from extensive radio play these days because she’s not young enough (ageism thrives in country as much as it does in other pop genres), but it can’t deny her superior ability to read cue-card jokes with a naturalism that make the yuks seem off-the-cuff. Thus she’s always an excellent awards host; she kept the proceedings moving quickly. In that spirit, I’ll bestow some quick awards myself.

MOST DESERVED WINNERS Miranda Lambert for top female vocalist (everything at the ACMs was “tops”) and Brad Paisley for top male vocalist. Both of them are examples of soulful vocalists lacking any mannerisms or excessive emoting. (I was thrilled that Lambert’s Revolution also won top album.)

BIGGEST WINNER Lady Antebellum won single of the year, song of the year, and top vocal group. Congrats to them; perfectly good group. Not exciting to me, but if we’re going to have a new-ish group that’s going to start winning everything in sight for years to come, it’s better that Lady Antebellum now replaces the hideously mediocre, long-running Rascal Flatts.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A NEW ARTIST A prediction: I think Laura Bell Bundy is going to be one of the most divisive big-new-stars in country music. Purists are going to hold her previous career — Broadway lead in shows like Wicked and Legally Blonde — against her, while her younger fan-base will think it’s cool that she can execute such impeccable choreography as she did this night, sing strongly while wiggling, and fearlessly expose her midriff. (The country audience likes its new artists to be demure before they go sexy — cf. Carrie Underwood.) Anyway, Bundy performing “Giddy On Up” was one of the real hoots of the evening.

WORST NEW AWARDS TREND I’d never say anything against democracy, especially in a country-music review, but… well, the ACMs were democracy run amock this year. Expanding the Entertainer of the Year category to eight nominees and then asking fans, rather than industry peers, to text in a winner? No wonder George Strait stayed home this year; his fan base doesn’t know from texting.

Even sillier: Brooks and Dunn, who apparently can’t split up fast enough even though they keep giving “final” performances (as in tonight’s “final Academy of Country Music performance as a duo”), asked their fans to vote for which song they’d sing. So you know the tune really meant a lot to them. And it turned out to be “My Maria.” Which was sung better by writer B.W. Stevenson the first time it was a hit, in 1973. And Ronnie Dunn’s microphone didn’t kick in til about half-way through the performance. Sheesh.

WORST STUNT I’m tempted to say it was Entertainer of the Year Carrie Underwood’s gigantic dress, under which she could have hidden the entire state of Rhode Island. But I’ll have to go with Taylor Swift’s three-part production: First, suspended over the crowd in a white gown. Next: busting out of the dress to reveal… black pants. Finally, Taylor spreads her arms and swan dives into the audience. By which I mean, she lands in the pre-rehearsed arms of four guys in her retinue. Sorry, I really like Swift, but this does not qualify as crowd-surfing, in my book. Poor kid was shut out of any major award this evening, too. Oh well, she’s already got a slew of trophies and more hit singles than many veteran stars.

BEST PERFORMANCE Brad Paisley executing an intricate guitar solo while walking through the crowd on “Water,” then falling into a tub of water: Corny but fun. Hey, it’s country music: corny-but-fun is an aesthetic principle. Second-best: Jack Ingram, with strong back-up by Dierks Bentley, on  “Barbie Doll.” Snicker if you must, but it’s a catchy-good song, their vocals were strong, and they looked like they were having a really good time.

What were your favorites? Your least-favorites?

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