The real winners were announced last night at the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. But here are a few more honors from the telecast you should feel free to weigh in on:
Best reaction There was nothing put-on about Luke Bryan’s overwhelmed response to hearing his name read for Entertainer of the Year, a fan-voted prize that Taylor Swift has taken twice before. Bryan almost instantly devolved into a blubbering, charming mess as he stepped behind the microphone, unable to fully articulate his excitement for more than a couple seconds. “I just started headlining, I haven’t even–” he spat out in shock before kindly thanking all the acts that, until last year, he’d opened for. The best part of the whole thing was that Bryan couldn’t leave the stage when he was done because of his hosting duties, so when Shelton appeared at his side, their final two minutes together were basically an extended acceptance speech with an extra dose of bromantic banter that felt far more authentic than their actual opening did. It was a nice moment — and a career galvanizing one for Bryan, for sure.
Worst hosts Despite the fawning former paragraph, I wasn’t all that impressed with Blake and Luke’s hosting stint. The guys roasted each other with lamely scripted digs about age and penis size (really), and Bryan, the ultimate good guy, couldn’t even commit to the jabs and kept giggling after each one. Delivery matters, dude! The pair grew on me as the night continued, and they did end up landing a few solid laughs. I also felt like they exhibited a whiff of chauvinism when introducing Faith Hill as “one of the best bodies in country music” and I found Blake’s comment about seeing Miranda naked pretty tacky. But maybe I’m overthinking it.
Best performance With every new beat in their career, The Band Perry are proving that they’re a far more interesting band than anyone initially gave them credit for. And for my money, their rowdy performance of “Done” was the clear highlight of the night for being spunky, dramatically lit, and admirably choreographed all at once. Now I totally understand why the sibling trio fired the famously minimalist Rick Rubin from working on their album Pioneer — they have major ambitions for a commercial pop/rock crossover. “Done” found Kimberly stomping across the stage (and this was after shooting from the floor surrounded by flames) with a newfound edge, and delivering the done-me-wrong lyrics with appropriate sauce. The commotion caused a couple wonky notes, but it didn’t matter. For those three wonderful minutes, I didn’t even think about how much I hate Neil and Reid’s hair.
Honroable mention Eric Church’s stripped back “Like Jesus Does” featured only him, his guitar, and gorgeous supporting vocalist Valerie June. It was moving in its simplicity.
Worst performance Hunter Hayes is undeniably talented, but he was in over his head trying to deliver “Sir Duke” with Stevie Wonder. Hayes’ warble kept cracking as he reached for those high runs. I did enjoy him on his new single “I Want Crazy,” though. The guy can write a song.
(Dis)Honorable mention Jana Kramer couldn’t compete with her background singers on a shaky rendition of “Whiskey.”
Also, worst finale song choice While we’re talking about Stevie, I’ve gotta ask: Why the heck did he close a country music awards show? Yes, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” sounded great, but if you’re going to give one legend an encore slot, why not make it Garth Brooks?
Best guitar guest spot Hunter Hayes joined Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley, and Keith Urban played alongside Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift, but it was John Mayer’s appearance on Paisley’s new single “Beat This Summer” that stood out most to me. The sometimes-beau of Katy Perry still doesn’t have 100 percent control of his post-surgery vocal cords, but his finger-picking prowess was on full display as he riffed alongside Paisley.
Best acceptance speech I’m gonna go ahead and give that one to Miranda Lambert for her sweet praise of Carrie Underwood, who really probably should have beaten her for Female Vocalist of the Year this time around.
Best introduction Not only did Reba McEntire receive a spontaneous standing ovation when she stepped out on stage (Was that the crowd’s way of acknowledging that she was a more impressive ACM host than either Blake or Luke?), but she delivered a heartfelt speech about what the late Dick Clark meant to her that had the red-haired legend on the verge of tears. See it in the Garth/George video later in this post.
Worst introduction CBS trotted out Michelle Stafford and the clunky San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to talk about how to use the #ACMs hashtag on Twitter. #UGH.
Best change of pace Lady Antebellum — which currently includes a very pregnant Hillary Scott — got to sing something uptempo! Their saucy single “Downtown” is the perfect antidote to the three years of “Need You Now”-ish bores they’ve had to perform at awards shows. I like them much more when they go lighthearted and fun.
Best line heard on the air While introducing her husband, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill showered him with compliments. “I’m not just saying that because I’m his biggest fan,” she said, “but because he’s also my… ride home.” Zing!
Best line not heard on the air There are two great ones according to ABC News Radio, and both involve Miranda Lambert. Regarding her Female Vocalist win, Lambert told reporters backstage, “I was rooting for Carrie because I’m such a fan of hers, and I’m so jealous of her voice and her legs and everything else she has.” And regarding her low-cut bustier, Lambert mentioned that her friend remarked, “Blake won Duo of the Year.”
Worst dressed It’s like Shania Twain heard Jason Aldean’s “1994” and thought the ACMs were some sort of costume party.
Best makeover Was that Eric Church without a ball cap? AND with hair gel?!
Best ‘Whoa, your spouse is beautiful’ moment You done good, Luke Bryan.
Worst performance gimmick Little Big Town’s “Your Side of the Bed” was delivered beautifully by real-life married couple Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook, but the vertical bed with dancers on wires behind them never really worked for me. It seemed like a less graceful version of the “Her Morning Elegance” video. I can’t fault the band, though — as always, they sounded pitch perfect.
Best performance gimmick Sure, it was a little on the nose, but Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs” was served well by the presence of, well, two black Cadillacs. It certainly felt more on-theme than a dress with butterflies projected onto it!
Best comeback It really was so nice to see Garth again, even if he only delivered a minute of “The Dance” during his joint-tribute to Dick Clark with George Strait. The man still sounds great!
Best happy surprise Jason Aldean was charmingly gratified to take the Male Vocalist of the Year trophy — an award that seems long overdue for the rocking star, who’s typically overshadowed by Blake Shelton.
Worst non-surprise Look, “Over You” is a wonderful song (and though it may not seem like it, I really do like Blake and Miranda!), but it’s gotten more than its fair share of accolades in Song and Record of the Year categories, recently. Is it really better than “Springsteen?” I don’t know about that. The song, penned about Blake Shelton’s deceased brother, has an emotional backstory that seems to be driving its never ending win streak.
Best crowd reaction I’ve seen Taylor Swift in concert enough times to know that her favorite performance trick is also her most simple: just walk to the front of the stage. Tim McGraw, Swift, and Keith Urban employed that technique while performing McGraw’s romantic new single “Highway Don’t Care,” and the audience ate it up and gave the trio and rousing ovation. Viewers did too — “Highway Don’t Care” jumped into the iTunes Top 10 this morning.
What did you think of the show?
For more country conversation (and other randomness):