Now that the swinging saloon doors have closed on the 2008 Country Music Association awards, it's probably safe to say that this was certainly one of the more surprise-filled editions in the organization's history.
For one thing, seeing L'il Wayne and Kid Rock together at a country music awards ceremony--or, really, together at any kind of ceremony, let alone one involving people dressed in suits and ties--was a fairly big shock. Almost as big a shock as seeing Detroit-proud Rock wearing not only a Tennessee Titans football jersey, but that of, of all people, that of kicker Rob Bironas.
Further signs that was most assuredly not your father's (or even your country cousin's) CMA Awards were the performing presences of Hootie & The Blowfish vocalist Darius Rucker and reggae legends the Wailers, who last time we checked weren't exactly known for any particular Nashville Grand Ole Opry creds. Not that we're knocking the musical/societal "inclusiveness" angle that was clearly in play here, right down to Brad Paisley and Keith Urban riff-referencing Deep Purple's "Some On The Water," complete with equally arena-rock widespread guitar hero stances.
Still, the biggest surprise of the night had little to do with any of the awards given out on the prime time TV-aired show--that is, unless you find it surprising that two of the trophies just happened to go to the program's co-hosts, Carrie Underwood (Best Female Vocalist) and Brad Paisley (Best Male Vocalist). No, the biggest surprise was the an actual in-the-flesh (and we mean that in the nicest way possible) appearance by, as Underwood oh-so accurately introduced her, "The bestselling female country artist of all time"--namely, Shania Twain.
On hand to present the award for Entertainer of the Year, the appearance by the positively stunning-looking Twain (that is an oxymoron, isn't it?) caught everyone by surprise. That included even winner Kenny Chesney, whose first words upon reaching the stage--"You really look good!"--seemed to echo the sentiments of all concerned, especially the show's director, who several times during Chesney's acceptance speech changed camera shots so as to bring Twain into the frame.
Of course, Shania herself has been notably out of the country frame the last few years, having gone through a tabloid-covered divorce this past spring from her husband of 14 years, Robert "Mutt" Lange, the former hard rock producer (Foreigner, Def Leppard, AC/DC) who skillfully helped craft both Twain's pop-leaning music and sex siren image with superstar results.
With no new studio albums released since 2002's Up!, and her Svengali disappearing in her rear view mirror, it remains to be seen precisely where the now 43-year-old country-popster will find herself if and when she returns to the competition. "I hope to be seeing more of you, too," a clearly touched Twain told the CMA audience that rose to give their voluntarily exiled Queen a standing ovation. As they say: stay tuned.