"Are you sure? Are you serious?" the "Our Song" singer said in disbelief as she accepted her first award, the female video of the year, in bare feet. The 18-year-old later attributed her lack of footwear to a painful pair of hot pink heels, and a little advice from an awards show veteran.
"I walked by Faith Hill and I was like, 'This hurts so bad.' And she was like, 'Take them off,' " Swift tells PEOPLE. "Faith Hill told me to. So I did it."
As last year's winner, Swift also presented the breakthrough award to Kellie Pickler, who gave her thanks via satellite. "This is the first time I've ever won anything in my life," the "I Wonder" singer said. "Thank you American Idol, you are the rocket that launched my career."
Other major winners of the night included Sugarland's "Stay" for duo video; Trace Adkins's "I Got My Game On" for male video; LeAnn Rimes and Bon Jovi's "Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore" for best collaborative video; Rascal Flatts' "Take Me There" for best group video; and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's "Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On)" for wide open country video.
Led Zeppelin rocker Plant was first to acknowledge his newfound status in Nashville. "I'd like to say how peculiar it is to be here," he said in his British accent, thanking fans and giving props to the city.
But his win wasn't the only surprise of the night. The show kicked off with a taped skit featuring the three presidential candidates all angling for tickets to see the night's cohosts, Miley Cyrus and dad Billy Ray.
Joked Barack Obama to the teen star, "Four words: Treasury Secretary Hannah Montana."
(See more photos from the CMT Awards.)
The PerformancesKeith Urban, who spent much of the night holding hands with wife Nicole Kidman, opened the ceremony with a performance of "Raise the Barn," joined by Brooks & Dunn. But before hitting the stage, he was already looking ahead to later. "It's great to be able to go home and sleep in our own bed tonight," the expectant father, who's been touring since last year, said on the CMT carpet.
Other performances included a racy jail-themed number by LeAnn Rimes, "Nothin' Better to Do," which had her dancing in a minidress, stockings and garter belts.
Taylor Swift donned a fedora and cowboy boots for the sassy post-breakup ode "Picture to Burn." Sugarland, Little Big Town and Jake Owen all hooked up for the '80s hit "Life in a Northern Town." Tim McGraw and Faith Hill went acoustic for their duet "I Need You." And finally, after Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood closed the show.
With reporting by EILEEN FINAN, KAY WEST and SHELLEY AKERS