Rising country singer Luke Bryan was named entertainer of the year and Miranda Lambert was singled out as a songwriter and a singer on Sunday at the 48th Academy of Country Music Awards. Lambert picked up significant honors from her collaboration with husband Blake Shelton on "Over You," a song they wrote inspired by Shelton's experience as a teenager when his brother was killed in an automobile accident.
"I don't know what to say," said Bryan, who also co-hosted the show from Las Vegas with Shelton. "I just started headlining. I swear to God, every time I step onstage it's a pleasure to play for fans. This is the defining moment of my life, and I will never forget it."
Lambert's "Over You" was named single record and song of the year, earning awards for the Texas artist as the song's performer and co-writer, and she also nabbed the female vocalist award for the fourth straight year. In all she collected four awards, more than any other nominee.
"Having your song lyrics recognized by your peers is about as good as it gets," said Lambert, picking up her award for single record. "Thank you for accepting me as a songwriter and not just a singer, that means the world to me."
For his part, Shelton gave props to his wife as they appeared together when "Over You" was announced as the ACM's song of the year.
"I've learned so much from this human standing next to me — a lot of things about myself," Shelton said. "I used to think I was a decent songwriter until I started working with her, and this is proof of it."
Relative newcomer Bryan trumped higher-profile acts including Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Lambert and Shelton in the entertainer competition, which is decided in part by fan voting. Other key honors went to Aldean as male vocalist, Eric Church's "Chief" as album of the year and Florida Georgia Line as new artist.
But awards were treated almost as an afterthought, especially early in the three-hour CBS telecast when nearly 50 minutes went by before the first trophy was handed out to Thompson Square as top vocal duo.
The matter of awards had to wait until after three commercial breaks and seven live music segments from a raft of the evening's featured performers — including co-hosts Shelton and Bryan as well as Sheryl Crow, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Church, the Pistol Annies, Hunter Hayes, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum and Florida Georgia Line — underscoring the importance of the live performance aspect of awards shows.
The ACM show takes the promotional power of its network TV broadcast a step further than most awards ceremonies by allowing acts to focus on their current hits rather than their nominated songs, an option most musicians exercised Sunday.
Their choices leaned heavily on maximum-wattage rock riffs and even hip-hop-influenced beats, such as Aldean's "1994" and the Band Perry's "Done." Lambert turned in one of the highlights among more than 20 musical performances with her power-packed delivery of "Mama's Broken Heart."
The ACM show producers also appeared to be increasingly taking the lead from the Grammy Awards with more emphasis on multi-artist collaborations during performances. At the top of that list was the heavily touted first-time joint appearance by George Strait and Garth Brooks, both previous recipients of the ACM artist of the decade Aaward, Strait for the 1990s and Brooks for the 2000s.
Together they saluted the late Dick Clark, originator of the ACM Awards telecast. Longtime show co-host Reba McEntire announced that "the ACM is renaming its most prestigious award the ACM Dick Clark artist of the decade award."
Tim McGraw, Swift and Keith Urban also joined forces in another number, as did guitar aces Brad Paisley and John Mayer, while the show's opening assault brought together Shelton and Bryan with Sheryl Crow, the Pistol Annies and Paisley.
When Aldean received the male vocalist honor, he told the crowd at the MGM Grand's Garden Arena, "Here's the problem: I'm a big fan of everybody else in this category. I'm glad I get to sing for a living, I'm glad you dig it. I love what I do, and I appreciate you guys for letting me do it."
Church's "Chief" winning album of the year added to the breakthrough success the Granite Falls, N.C. native has seen with this third album and its runaway hit single "Springsteen."
"I can't believe I just met John Fogerty," he said after hearing his name read by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter and former frontman of Creedence Clearwater Revival, who introduced the category with Lambert. "I have a great team, they all believe about the passion in the music, and that's what this is about."
Little Big Town took the vocal group award over the Band Perry, the Eli Young Band, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band.
The other trend at this year's ACM ceremony had to do with relatively new faces. In the entertainer of the year category, all the nominated artists scored their first hits within the past decade. No artists with careers more than a decade old appeared among album of the year nominees.
In fact, among the entertainer, album, male and female vocalist categories, Toby Keith was the only male artist with a career of long standing to get a nomination (male vocalist), while Martina McBride held that distinction within the female vocalist roster, underscoring the generational shift that characterized this year's ceremony.
Church led this year's nominations with seven, including album, single and song of the year, partly a reflection of the ACM's process that gives separate nominations in some categories to artists who also write songs. That meant that Church, Lambert and Hayes each doubled up in the song of the year category because they wrote or co-wrote their nominated songs.
It was the first round of awards for which Swift's latest album, "Red," fell within the eligibility period — Dec. 1, 2011 to Nov. 28, 2012 — and it was nominated for album of the year alongside Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away," Church's "Chief," Bryan's "Tailgates & Tanlines" and Little Big Town's "Tornado."
Much attention has been focused on the four nominations handed out to Texas newcomer Kacey Musgraves, who, like Lambert before her, came to light as a contestant on the country music reality competition "Nashville Star" during its 2007 season, when she finished seventh. Musgraves' latest album, "Same Trailer, Different Park," has been both a critical and commercial hit, with the title track a hit at country radio, but she went away from Sunday's awards ceremony empty-handed.
The ACM was established in 1964 as a West Coast counterpart to the Nashville-based Country Music Assn., which holds its awards ceremony each fall.