Country music has two queens—or young princesses, anyway—right now, if the Academy of Country Music Awards are a barometer. Miranda Lambert was the biggest winner of the night, numerically, with four trophies. But Taylor Swift got the biggest award, for entertainer of the year, in the kind of split decision that benefits everyone except maybe headline writers.
Winning the top prize is "the biggest thing in the world to me," Swift said after the show, "because my heroes won that award. To have such amazing artists take me under their wing, like Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Keith Urban, these are all [former entertainer of the year winners] I've opened for... And then you look back to Shania Twain and Garth Brooks, the people I'm just absolutely in awe of. So the fact that I would even be mentioned in the same breath... is mindblowing to me."
This win represents a sort of double crown for Swift, as she won entertainer of the year at the other big country kudocast, the CMAs, in 2009—before not even being nominated in 2010. Many observers, including Swift herself, said she won the top ACMs prize this year because it was fan-voted... which is only partly true, since industry voting factored in as well as online voting. But she can now claim to have picked up country's two top prizes, one strictly voted by the industry and one mostly voted by fans.
It's not atypical at these country shows for the entertainer of the year to be someone who was shut out in every other category. That was certainly true all those years when Kenny Chesney picked up the top prize but lost best male vocalist and other awards to Brad Paisley. This time, it was Lambert beating Swift for best female vocalist, which was absolutely no surprise after she became the belle of the ball at last year's show.
Naturally, questions backstage in the press area focused more on her wedding to host Blake Shelton in three weeks than her utterly expected wins for vocalist and for the acclaimed single "The House That Built Me." Despite Shelton's joke on the show that she was the "wedding planner" and he was the one bitterly throwing down cash, Lambert assured the assembled that she has not really taken on that role.
"I have an awesome wedding planner and a great mom, so together, they've taken the bulk of the pressure for the wedding," Lambert said. "The ACMs was the last thing I was focused on besides my wedding, and now that it's been an awesome night... I can get ready. Because it's not just about the wedding. I'm going to be a wife. So it's one night, but it's the rest of my life, and I'm going to start focusing on that."
She admitted her attire was uncharacteristically sweet. "I don't ever wear pink, because I don't want to be blonde Barbie," she said. "But I've worn everything pink tonight. I had a pink microphone. I don't know what's happening to me. I'm just full of love!"
Her hubby-to-be got plenty of compliments for his first time co-hosting the show with longtime solo emcee Reba. Brad Paisley, who in recent years has assumed co-hosting duties for the competing CMAs every November, was full of praise for Shelton's typically droll performance—some of which, if you know Blake, had to have been scripted by the man himself.
"I thought he was awesome," said Paisley, who beat Shelton for best male vocalist, despite some predictions of an upset. "I think he's probably got a permanent gig. I was floored and so proud of them... All of their jokes landed, and he's a natural. I really expected actually for him to win this tonight, and I would have been very happy if he had. We're going out on tour here in a couple weeks. He grabbed me as soon as I walked offstage [from winning] and he said, 'I ain't going.'"
Of winning best male vocalist for the fifth time, Paisley said, "This one almost felt like that first time... I really thought: That's it, four... It was a really emotional thing for me, thinking about that and the fact that you're starting to overcome fatigue with voters. Voters eventually—whether or not you deserve anything—start to be like, 'Come on. He's got too many of those.'"
Paisley performed his new single, "Old Alabama," with—of course—three newly reunited members of Alabama. Paisley explained, "I told Randy, 'I've got this idea. The song is all about your music, and about a girl that's in love with that old sound, and I want to use the bridge from 'Mountain Music' in it and some other lines here and there, if you'd co-write it with me. It's our way of sampling, here in the country world. He said, 'That sounds great, and I had no idea that anybody cared anymore'—sort of with a chuckle. I told him, 'Well, you're about to see how much they care, I think.' More than anything, I hope this makes their iTunes songs spike a little. They're just the coolest band we ever had, so I'm proud to get to be an unofficial member for a while."
I talked to the Alabama members on the red carpet before the show to see if they were going to take advantage of this public limelight to launch a full-scale reunion. "We can do anything we want to do," said Teddy Gentry. "We're free agents. There's nothing off the table. We may tour and we may cut a CD—any of the above."
But they weren't sitting by their phones waiting for someone to call and guest on a record. "No," said Randy Owen, "there's not many people... in fact, there might be just one we'd do this for. But we're excited for Brad's fans and excited for our fans. We hope it stays No. 1 for 20 weeks and sells 10 million copies. Brad's a cool guy."
Last year, it was considered a bit of an upset when Lady Antebellum beat Rascal Flatts for best group. This year, RF wasn't even nominated, which Lady A admitted they found strange. "They deserve to be in the category every year," said Charles Kelley. "They're the biggest group in country music."
Hillary Scott insisted she is not engaged, despite the big rock on a certain finger. "I told her not to wear that!" laughed Kelley. "Whenever you wear fancy jewelry like this," Scott explained, "you put it on the finger that fits."
Kelley mentioned that Scott had just gotten back from a mission trip to Haiti. Later this year, they'll be heading out on a more conventional country trek, presumably in arenas. "We got a little taste of it in the fall [on a theater tour]," said Kelley—"our first taste of (large-scale) production." Quipped Scott, "We want choreography and leotards." The trio are also "halfway" through recording their third album and trying to pick a single that will hit radio shortly.
The Band Perry picked up best new artist in a fan-voted face-off against Eric Church. The sibling trio thanked their parents from the stage, and elaborated backstage. "They are our biggest fans and also our biggest critics," said Kimberly Perry. "We are champion pesterers in the Band Perry. We drive each other nuts. Our parents took us to the window and said, 'That's the big bad world out there. You're going to have to fight it every day. Don't do it in here.'"
The Band Perry are among the acts scheduled to stay in Las Vegas an extra day to perform at a Monday night "Women of Country" tribute that will be taped by CBS for airing as a prime-time special later. They were asked to pay homage to Patsy Cline, and, given the choice, picked "Walking After Midnight" over "Crazy."
Lambert will actually debut a new group at Monday night's Women of Country taping: the Pistol Annies, a trio she's formed with Angaleena Presley and frequent co-writer Ashley Monroe. 'Ran declined to give too many details before their official coming out, but promised, "It's not your typical girl trio. We definitely have an edge." In other words, pink may be on the way back out.