The real winners were announced last night at the 47th Academy of Country Music Awards. But here are a few more honors from the telecast that you should feel free to weigh in on:
Best hosts: They’re no Brad and Carrie, but Blake Shelton and Reba McEntire (or is it just Reba these days?) maintained a playful rapport and charming competitiveness throughout the telecast. During the opening bit, Blake nailed Taylor Swift’s trademark suprised face while joking about her upcoming perfume. “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I smell this good!” he imitated as he put his hands to his cheeks. Reba roasted Blake a bit for his old mullet (never forget!), and in return, Blake offered a few barbs about her age — although she’s looking mighty fine at 57! Blake’s humor just ever so slightly delved into the mean territory (I could have done without the Randy Travis and Tim Tebow jokes), but he still garnered big laughs throughout the night. Why is it that country music award shows seem to be the only type that prove hosts can actually be funny? My guess is that they don’t take themselves so dang seriously!
Most exhilarating performance: Near the end of the program, Luke Bryan took to the stage for a gimmick-free performance of “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” and by the look on his face, he really didn’t. His simple set (a welcome change of pace on the busy telecast) featured a thrilling laser light show and Bryan belted out the song’s killer pop-country hook while riling up the crowd. Put simply, the man is a great performer, even if his constantly gyrating hips do make me wonder if he has a secret past at Chippendales. Granted, those hips aren’t a problem for everyone — as my co-worker and fellow country fan Mandi Bierly told me on Twitter last night, “He’s the only equal opportunity ass shaker in country music. I approve.” Chris Young’s “Save Water, Drink Beer” was hammy, but it also got the crowd riled up.
Best acceptance speech: Usually, when artists claim they’re honored to be in the same category as their fellow nominees, I don’t take them overly seriously. Yeah, of course you’re going to say that. But Miranda Lambert actually backed up what she was saying as she accepted the trophy for Album of the Year for her disc Four the Record. “I own every album in this category,” she explained before lavishing praise on her competitors’ collections. “My albums are my babies,” the singer waxed appreciatively.
Worst dressed: Sorry, Beth Behrs, but you really shouldn’t invite people to tweet about the night’s fashion while wearing that dress.
Most improved performer: Whoa, since when was Kimberly Perry so sassy? I love it! The blonde lead singer of sibling ensemble The Band Perry displayed a newfound stage presence last night while singing current single “Postcard From Paris.” In the past, I’ve thought that the trio lacked exciting staging, so I was glad to see Kimberly move around the stage, sauntering down the catwalk and striking a few T-Swifty poses. It made the pretty mid-tempo song feel more like an energetic barn burner. Good work!
Best use of a hat: Brad Paisley stepping onstage with the Zac Brown Band in the lead singer’s trademark beanie. Hilarious.
Worst use of a hat: Brantley Gilbert’s baseball cap was so low that the only part of his head visible was his blond scruff. Maybe not the best idea for a New Artist nominee? Get your face out there!
Best audience reaction: Taylor Swift almost took this prestigious prize for her always-game dancing while watching her fellow country artists. (It must be tough knowing that the camera will observe your every movement all night long.) But Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman’s thorough enjoyment of Eric Church’s “Springsteen” was all sorts of adorable.
Weirdest/grossest moment: Call me soulless or unromantic or incapable of crying, but that wedding that took place during Martina McBride and Pat Monahan’s rendition of “Marry Me” felt so emotionally manipulative that I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe the show was trying to honor Las Vegas, or maybe it was just a ratings stunt — but it rang false to me. I know that the couple signed up for the televised event, and that’s their prerogative, but “Marry Me” is a song all about intimacy, and I can’t imagine a less intimate feeling than getting introduced by Nancy O’Dell, having to light candles on TV in front of 13 million viewers, and then getting hugged by two singers you’ve never met just moments after sealing your vows with a kiss.
Most endearing compliment: Zac Brown’s respect for Hunter Hayes was evident when he introduced the young performer. He complimented the newcomer because he “actually plays on his record.” It was a classy move.
Worst teleprompter reading: Among issues had by teleprompter readers last night: Reba McEntire pitched the show over to Liam Hemsworth, star of “The Hunger Game,” Marc Anthony awkwardly stuttered through his introduction of Sara Evans, and every presenter seemed forced to introduce, “my friend, (insert act I’ve never actually met here).” Seemed weird, right? Are Liam Hemsworth and the Zac Brown Band really sharing drinks every Friday? (UPDATE: As it turns out, Liam and the ZBB share a manager and have been friends for years! I stand corrected.)
Worst structural/technical/pacing issues: The ACM Awards definitely focused on the performances, and that’s okay — even if we sometimes had to endure 30-minute stretches of award-less programming. But really, does the show require two separate casinos and a constant back-and-forth helicopter camera telling us which one we’re inside? Watching performers finish their songs and then instantly pitching to other performers via satellite got rather obnoxious, and made the night feel rushed and cluttered. Plus, sound issues plagued performers like Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood — others kept grabbing at their earpieces. The dynamic of the vocals and the bands just never felt even. All in all, I’m partial to the CMAs’ stripped down, simpler approach to country music — it gives you a chance to breathe.
Best game face: Jason Aldean did receive two trophies for his Kelly Clarkson collaboration “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” but he was once again upstaged for Male Vocalist of the Year by Blake Shelton and Entertainer of the Year by Taylor Swift. I really love that whenever he’s nominated for an award, you can see in his eyes that he wants it — the man doesn’t put on an ambivalent smile. With 2.5 million scanned copies of My Kinda Party and a massive sold-out tour, Aldean has had a banner year, and it’s pretty crazy that he doesn’t really have the awards to show for it.
Other favorites: Miranda Lambert sounded absolutely terrific (better than usual on awards shows) on “Over You,” Eric Church’s “Springsteen” was smooth and wonderfully delivered and has the potential to be Church’s biggest hit yet, and Scotty McCreery looked every bit a seasoned pro while singing “Water Tower Town” and accepting his New Artist award. Also, that Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney duet? Yes, please. Sign me up for the tour stat!
What did you think of the ACM awards? Did you have a favorite performance? How do you think it compared to the CMAs? And are you also starting to get a little tired of hearing Blake and Miranda talk about how much they love each other every chance they get?
More on EW.com: