(photo: Disney ABC)
Not everything about the 2012 CMA Awards worked. Is the future so bright that Eric Church has to wear shades and an eye-shielding ballcap? We're still trying to figure out what we think about the Love American Style production design for Faith Hill's "American Heart"... not to mention whether it's true that an American heart can't be broken. Laserium and 1975 called, and they both want the green lighting used during the Band Perry's song back. And did Jason Aldean, Zac Brown, Luke Bryan, Church, and Faith Hill all need 20 performance slots each?
[Related: 2012 CMAs red carpet photo gallery]
But there was plenty about the telecast that did strike us right. Here, in order of appearance, a dozen highlights, comedic and otherwise:
1. Carrie and Brad go "Gangnam Style." With a pun that good for a parody-song title, they almost didn't have to do anything else to sell it. But they did, with some seriously goofy, and good, hoofing.
2. The running joke—or running shame—of "motorboatin'." First the hosts gave all the kids watching during the 8 p.m. family a quick lesson in sex-ed, or at least something to go ask their older siblings about, when Paisley mimed whispering in a naive Underwood's ear the true meaning of the catchphrase in Little Big Town's "Pontoon." Then, when the band won the single of the year award for the tune, Kimberly Schlapman blurted, "Oh my stars, Brad Paisley, you just told my mama what motorboatin' is." You can only hope to hide the inherent smuttiness of a No. 1 from the family for so long. Later, Paisley warned "Doctor" Little Jimmy Dickens to "not motorboat the nurses." When LBT got around to finally playing the song, Paisley quipped, "By the way, Kimberly, your grandmother unfriended me on Facebook. And she wants you to call her." The joke should've gotten old, and maybe it did, so call us easily amused.
3. Miranda rocks out on "Fastest Girl in Town." Less than 45 minutes into the program, and the CMA Awards had already featured more rock & roll than the last MTV Awards.
4. Miranda weeps out in her acceptance speech. Or in Blake's acceptance speech, really, since Lambert was too teary to do much of the talking herself. Shelton talked about the death of his brother when he was a teenager—subject of the winning song of the year, "Over You"—and said his dad had said "Son, you should write a song about your brother." "I lost my dad in January," he added. "And it's so amazing to me that tonight, even after he's gone, he's still right."
5. Paisley's instrumental rendition of the "Andy Griffith Show" theme. Short and sweet.
6. Taylor goes country, again... as in the country of France. Hard to know whether the Eiffel Tower backdrop was Swift's idea, or that of a production designer who heard the word "cafe" in the song and decided to take it internationale. But given the hugeness of the production on much of her new Red album, it was nice to hear the album's gentlest song, which just happens to be the only one that's in the pocket for country radio.
7. Praise the Lord! Little Big Town pulls an upset. "Nashville, you've made us your band," exulted Karen Fairchild, after the quartet stole the vocal group award away from Lady Antebellum, who pulled it out from under Rascal Flatts a few years ago. When Schlapman threw in a thanks to Jesus among the more prosaic thank-yous, Fairchild picked that ball up and ran with it, saying, "Thank you Capitol and Jesus and our mamas and daddies and Jesus and our babies and Jesus." When their acceptance speech got played off, Paisley said, "They've got Twitter. You can find out what they're saying in a little bit. But I'm sure it ends in Jesus." They did Bobby Ricky proud.
8. Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill, together again for the first time. Neither one of these people had a glaringly obvious reason to be on the show—even if Clarkson was (mysteriously?) up for female vocalist of the year, and Gill hosted the thing for centuries—but we're glad they were, as they brought a little R&B slinkiness to the proceedings.
9. Paisley offers an un-incongruous shout-out to New York and New Jersey. The mention actually led in perfectly to the theme of his terrific new single, "Southern Comfort Zone," which is a song about not being a Southern xenophobe but embracing the rest of the wide world (in contrast to a lot of the South-uber-alles songs recently dominating country radio). When he started the song with some acoustically backed lyrics about the hurricane-affected areas and even threw in a nod to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," really, he couldn't have done Tennessee any prouder.
10. Miranda has a Juliette Barnes moment. We couldn't be more confident that Lambert doesn't bear any similarities to Hayden Panettiere's character on Nashville, either personally or musically. But she did seem to be channeling her for a second during her acceptance speech for best female vocalist. Lambert humbly gave credit to all her competitors in the category, including Swift ("I've been listening to Red all week long. It's freaking awesome"). But she seemed to have overlooked Martina McBride before she made a quick recovery. Or did she? "I grew up with her records and tried to sing even one note that she ever sang and it's impossible," Lambert said. Martina must have been feeling very Rayna James.
11. Willie. And friends. In the climactic tribute medley, Blake was a stylistically and thematically appropriate choice for "Whiskey River" (backed by Keith Urban). And when Tim McGraw came out to join Faith Hill on "Good Hearted Woman," damn if he didn't sound a lot like his (and Willie's) pal Kris Kristofferson for a few moments.
12. A newborn king: Blake Shelton. For many years, the CMAs stubbornly resisted the idea that the Entertainer of the Year trophy should represent something truly au courant in the genre. But by giving it to Swift and now Shelton, they're showing the thinking has changed. Traditionally this goes to someone who has expanded the country audience via successful arena tours, first and foremost, so there'll be some controversy over handing it to someone who's never headlined a tour that big and represented for country almost exclusively via TV during the period in question. Shelton seemed appropriately stymied: "What are you talking about?... When I moved to Nashville in 1994, I had two goals. One was to someday have a gold record and one was to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Entertainer of the Year was… What is this? I don't even know. Listen, look, I know I'm not out there on the road… Taylor Swift? I don't know how this happened. I freakin' love it though… I love country music more than anybody in this room." With that, the new heavyweight champion was played off.
What were your favorite and least favorite moments from the show?