Brooks & Dunn added to their record stash of nearly two dozen trophies and continued as the most honored artists in the history of the Academy of Country Music’s awards show with a gospel-laced song they admitted was risky to record.
Newcomer Carrie Underwood of “American Idol” fame walked away from her first awards with two honors, while Brad Paisley picked up a leading three.
Brooks & Dunn won their 20th and 21st awards for top vocal duo and song of the year, “Believe,” co-written by Ronnie Dunn and Craig Wiseman. Kix Brooks said the duo knew the song was good but wasn’t sure it would be a hit.
“It’s always fun to be a part of something so strong and so spiritual,” he said.
Kenny Chesney had to sit through the entire three-hour show to claim his only award, but it was a big one — entertainer of the year.
“It never gets old, man. Winning entertainer of the year has an expiration date,” said Chesney, who won the honor for the second consecutive year.
Paisley, who came into the competition with a leading six nominations, walked away with the one award he said he really wanted, album of the year for “Time Well Wasted.” His duet with Dolly Parton on “When I Get Where I’m Going” also won awards for video and vocal event.
Before Tuesday, he had won only two ACMs — last year’s vocal event and launch video awards for his collaboration with Alison Krauss on “Whiskey Lullaby.”
Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” which she performed on the show, won single of the year and helped propel her to the top new female honor.
“I wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t opened all the doors for me,” she told the audience.
Jason Aldean, whose song “Why” is No. 1 this week, was named top new male vocalist and Sugarland was chosen as top new duo or vocal group. Rascal Flatts was top group for a fourth straight year.
Keith Urban was top male vocalist for a second year and Sara Evans, up against Underwood, Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson and Lee Ann Womack, captured her first ACM award, for top female vocalist.
“I’ve waited for this my whole life,” she said.
After the show, Urban dodged questions about his engagement to actress Nicole Kidman, smiling as he said, “She’s not here, but thank you for asking.” He added that she was “very congratulatory” about his award.
The three-hour show was as much about music as awards, and Trace Adkins provided one of the evening’s musical highlights. Dressed all in black — from his cowboy hat to his leather suit — Adkins added a Las Vegas touch to the program as he performed his song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” while surrounded by shimmying showgirls.
“This is a song with no ifs, no ands and plenty of butts,” host Reba McIntire quipped.
McEntire, hosting the show for an eighth time, also took a shot at the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks, criticized in country circles when Natalie Maines told an audience in 2003, “We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” are striking back at their critics in their new single, “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“I don’t know why I was so nervous about hosting this show this year,” she said. “If the Dixie Chicks can sing with their foot in their mouths, surely I can host this sucker.”
A poignant moment came Tuesday as Vince Gill, named the humanitarian of the year, called a young girl he knew only as Catlin to the stage and presented his trophy to her. He said he had met her just before the show as she was seeking autographs and noticed her Make-a-Wish Foundation badge.
Gill was honored for his community service and charitable giving of his time and talent with a trophy and a playground built in a city of his choice. He said that probably would be New Orleans. Previous winners include McEntire, McBride, Lonestar and Neal McCoy.
There also was a medley of songs honoring the late Buck Owens. The creator of country music’s Bakersfield Sound died in March. His son, Buddy — wearing one of his father’s jackets — joined Dwight Yoakam in “Streets of Bakersfield” which Yoakam and Buck Owens had recorded in 1988.