"The Academy has been so good to me, country music has been so good to me," the singer said with a smile before a wave of emotion hit. She tried again, "I had so much to say," before admitting through tears, "But I forget it all! What's wrong with me?"
Emcee Jake Owen was empathetic. Referencing Underwood's recently announced pregnancy, he turned to the singer's husband, Mike Fisher, seated below the stage.
"Mike, let me let you in on something," he said. "Women get very emotional when they're pregnant. Roll with it. If she says the sky is green, it's green."
And that wasn't the only memorable moment during the three-hour, sold-out show at the historic Ryman Auditorium: Tim Tebow surprised his pals Rascal Flatts, presenting them with their Jim Reeves International Award. "No wonder you didn't answer my texts," Gary LeVox said to ESPN's new college football analyst before the trio joined Tebow in his classic kneel.
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And Hunter Hayes nailed a stripped-down version of Ronnie Milsap's 1981 chart-topper "I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World," personally requested by Milsap, the recipient of the 2014 Career Achievement Award. (In turn, emcee Owen and the audience sang "Happy Birthday" to Hayes, who turned 23 the day of the show.)
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But it was songwriter Dean Dillon, another Pioneer Award recipient who has written dozens of George Strait hits, who had the acceptance speech of the night: "I want to thank my momma for having me, God for saving me and country music for loving me," he said.