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A Report From CMT Rehearsals: Flatts + Journey, Toby + Kristen, Barack + Mitt

Our Country

The hallmark of tonight's CMT Music Awards looks to be pairing performers with partners twice their size (or half, depending on how you're looking at it).

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Gary LeVox backstage with Journey singer Arnel Pineda and Jonathan Cain

Rascal Flatts will be closing the three-hour live telecast by joining up with classic-rock band Journey for a medley of "Banjo" and "Don't Stop Believin'." As you can see from some of the adjoining solos, Gary LeVox dwarfs Journey's current singer, Arnel Pineda, in just about every way. Except, presumably, vocal prowess—but you can be the judge of that at about 10:53 p.m. ET/PT.

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Toby Keith and Kristen Bell

And how about hosts Toby Keith or Kristen Bell? There seems to be a premium on very diminutive Kristens hosting country awards shows, as Kristen Chenoweth just did similar duties on the ACM Awards a couple of months back. At 5'1", Bell is two inches taller than Chenoweth, but still manages to look like something the 6'3" Keith might have as an appetizer before the main course. Will she tower over him, comedically?

And then we have Barack Obama and Mitt Romney... who, sadly, will not appear side by side, but will have adjoining appearances in taped bits at the top of the show. As viewers with longish memories will remember, this recalls the brief scripted schtick that Obama and John McCain did for the opening of the 2008 CMTs, when they pretended to be eager to nab tickets for the show because Miley Cyrus was co-hosting. (Remember when Miley was a phenomenon and/or deemed country-audience-friendly? That seems way longer ago than the waning days of the Bush administration.)

Of course, there is no major difference in stature between Romney and Obama. (Feel free to insert your own joke here, depending on your political affiliation.)

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Rascal Flatts and Journey rehearse

Journey and Rascal Flatts were announced as doing a "CMT Crossroads" taping together back in January, but that never came to fruition, so fans will have to make do with this far shorter teaming... which shouldn't come as a huge surprise, given that Flatts regularly feature classic-rock-era tunes like Boston's "Long Time" as part of their touring set.

What else can you expect from the CMT Awards? We were at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena during rehearsals, and can offer you a few other tidbits:

* Hosts Keith and Bell will enter the arena from the rear in a sort of giant chariot, the unique design of which is directly related to one of Toby's most recent hits. Perhaps you can guess the color and product affiliated with their ride. "We got it from the guy who makes Lady Gaga's crazy eggs," he quipped while rehearsing the opening duo-monologue.

* The first performance of the evening will be Lady Antebellum and Nashville-based pop band Hot Chelle Rae mashing up their respective hits "We Owned the Night" and "Tonight, Tonight."

* The biggest mashup of the night, in terms of sheer personnel, will occur about halfway through the show when Willie Nelson sings a light-heartedly provocative number from his latest album. On "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," Willie will be joined by longtime partner Keith as well as Zac Brown, Jamey Johnson, and Darius Rucker. (No sign of Snoop Dogg, who appears with Nelson on the studio version.)

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Brad Paisley and Hank Jr. backstage

* Turning from flammable substances to alcohol. Brad Paisley and Hank Williams Jr. will duet on "I'm Going to Get Drunk and Sing Hank Williams All Night Long" from outside the arena.

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Zac Brown rehearses "The Wind"

* The Zac Brown Band will premiere "The Wind," the first single from their upcoming album.

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The Band Perry in rehearsal at Bridgestone Arena

* Carrie Underwood gets the penultimate performance of the night with her rocker "Good Girl." Other live spots include Luke Bryan's fast-rising hit "Drunk on You," Scotty McCreery's wistful "Water Tower Town," Pistol Annies' substance-abusing anthem "Takin' Pills," and numbers by the Band Perry, Lauren Alaina, Kenny Chesney, host Keith ("Beers Ago"), Eric Church, Casey James, Kip Moore, and newcomers the Farm and Jana Kramer.

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Seating arrangements

If you look closely at the adjoining photo, you can discern that Lil Kim, of all people, will be on hand, seated three rows behind Ashley Greene. Why, we have no idea. (No idea on Kim, that is; Greene is there to present and plug her August movie The Apparition.) Kim's nemesis Nicki Minaj is not expected.

However, the folks doing the seating arrangements did have some feuds to consider. And we can verify for you that Miranda Lambert and Eric Church are not seated in the same section, though they will have to walk up and down the same aisle, which we can only hope leads to some newsworthily awkward encounters.

Isn't it a shame, meanwhile, that Greene and Jamey Johnson are seated three seats apart instead of right next to each other? What gossip-monger wouldn't want to see those two hook up as the odd couple of 2012?

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