Carrie Underwood captured the entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, the first female act to win the honor since the Dixie Chicks did it back in 2000 and only the seventh to do so in the show's nearly four-decade existence.
"I've had a lot of good moments in the past four years. This one takes the cake," the tearful former "American Idol" champ said. "Thank you God, thank you fans, thank you to ACM for nominating me in the first place. I never thought I'd be nominated and never thought I'd win. I'm shaking. I don't know what to say."
With the win, Underwood, who also won top female vocalist, broke Kenny Chesney's four-year win streak and denied him the chance to tie Alabama's five years of dominance in the category. Besides Underwood, the other female acts to win included Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. Chesney kissed Underwood as she walked up to accept the honor.
Another female dominating not only country music but the entire music industry, Taylor Swift, won album of the year for her sophomore disc "Fearless." Both of Swift's albums have topped the 3 million mark — a rare feat in today's music industry. She's connected with fans both young and old for her intensely personal songs, which she writes usually on her own or with another writer.
"A lot of people who know me know if you talk to me more than 5 minutes I'm probably going to write a song about you," Swift said, as she proceeded to thank characters in her songs such as Tim McGraw and Romeo.
Other winners included Jamey Johnson, Sugarland and Julianne Hough, but the evening's most memorable moments came via the performances.
Trace Adkins performed "'Til the Last Shot's Fired," a somber salute to U.S. troops, with the West Point Glee Club in honor of the servicemen and women. The performance was introduced by Lt. Andrew Kinard, who had been wounded. He told the crowd, "As you listen to this song, please consider that it's not about the war, it's about the warrior."
John Rich's angry anthem "Shuttin' Detroit Down" also stirred the crowd.
"I'd like to dedicate this song tonight to all the hard-working, taxpaying Americans from coast to coast who love this country as much as I do," Rich said to the audience while holding a guitar tagged with the sticker "Made in the U.S.A."
"We wrote this song specifically for you," he said before launching into his searing song that feeds into taxpayer resentment about the bailouts on Wall Street.
Other performances included teen sensation Miley Cyrus, dancing atop a high staircase on stage; Heidi Newfield singing "Johnny and June," inspired by the late Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, around an appropriate ring of fire; and Underwood in a burgundy dress so overwhelming that it took up most of the stage.
"Can I borrow that?" host Reba McEntire quipped afterward.
Newcomer Johnson beat out veterans like George Strait and Brad Paisley in nabbing the night's first honor, song of the year for his poignant hit about an old man looking back on his life, "In Color."
"Thanks to my band for going in on an off day and producing an off record," Johnson quipped in a brief acceptance speech.
'I'm glad I'm an idiot'
Adkins also won single of the year for his heartfelt hit "You're Gonna Miss This." The deep-voiced singer said the song, about how people want to grow up and move on with life when they should slow down and enjoy the moment more, was very personal to him, but he didn't think others would relate to it. When his label said they were going to release it as a single, he said, "Go ahead. Nobody's going play it."
"I'm glad I'm an idiot," Adkins cracked. "Thank you very much."
Swift had four nominations going into Sunday's show, but got a special honor as McEntire presented her with a special ACM Crystal Milestone Award for bringing so many young people to country music.
Sugarland broke Brooks & Dunn's lock on the vocal duo award, while "Dancing with the Stars" champ Hough took the top new artist trophy during Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards.
Strait and Brad Paisley led all nominees with six. Paisley was linked up by video from Nashville, where his wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley is expecting their second child, and accepted the trophy for male vocalist of the year from there.
"I wish I could be there but I didn't want to take the chance of missing the birth of our next child. I hope you understand," he said.
Jamie Foxx introduced Strait's performance of "Troubadour," and joked that the country scene was getting more diverse.
"Things are changing," Foxx said, mentioning his repeat appearance at the ACMs and Darius Rucker's success on the country charts. "(An) African-American singing country. Things are changing. Got a black man running the country. Things are changing. ... I mean what's next, white people going to Tyler Perry movies?"
The show aired live from the MGM Grand on CBS.
Here are Sunday night's winners:
- Entertainer of the year: Carrie Underwood
- Top male vocalist: Brad Paisley
- Top female vocalist: Carrie Underwood
- Top vocal group: Rascal Flatts
- Top vocal duo: Sugarland
- Top new artist: Julianne Hough
- Top new male vocalist: Jake Owen
- Top new female vocalist: Julianne Hough
- Top new duo or vocal group: Zac Brown Band
- Album of the year: “Fearless,” Taylor Swift
- Single record of the year: “You’re Gonna Miss This,” Trace Adkins
- Song of the year: “In Color,” Jamey Johnson
- Video of the year: “Waitin’ On a Woman,” Brad Paisley
- Vocal event of the year: “Start a Band,” Brad Paisley and Keith Urban