"We've had a great year in country music," declared host Reba McEntire from the stage of the capacity-filled MGM Grand Garden Arena, "lots of songs about cowboy Casanovas, white liars and two-timin' men – and I'd like to thank Jesse James and Tiger Woods for inspiring us all."
While the men may have inspired, in the course of the three-hour, performance-heavy evening it was the women who commanded the spotlight – starting with an opening act comprised of this year's (and last year's) entertainer of the year Carrie Underwood and eventual double winner Miranda Lambert, and culminating with multiple winner Lady Antebellum, who in fact are the co-ed trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood.
In all, Lady A took home three awards, for song of the year, single of the year and vocal group. Brad Paisley was named male vocalist of the year, while Miranda Lambert won as female vocalist and for album of the year. Underwood's honor is unprecedented, as she is now the first woman to win two entertainer of the year awards.
During her acceptance speech, she said her cell phone was ringing.
Brad Needs Matt's ShirtIn a night aglow with body glitter and many spray tans, guest presenter Matthew McConaughey gifted Underwood with a pair of boots – in answer to a request she made at last year's ceremony. He also delivered the male vocalist award to Brad Paisley, who was still wet from having just performed his number "Water."
"Can I borrow you shirt?" Paisley asked the actor. "You're used to not wearing one."
While presenting McConaughey also said, "After the show last year, my lady and I, Camila, we went back to the hotel and conceived the little lady that is now our daughter, Vida Alves McConaughey … I promise you, me and Camila are not going to try and get so lucky this year."
Lady A's FansIn accepting the first major award of the night, song of the year for "Need You Now," Lady Antebellum's Scott thanked the group's families and gave a shout out to "the fans – thank you!"
Shortly afterward, "Need You Now" was also named single record of the year. "I don't think this compares to an Olympic gold medal, but –" said Scott, while Charles Kelley interjected, "We're living our dream."
Despite Lady A's early monopoly on the evening, their self-titled CD was not named album of the year. That distinction went to Miranda Lambert, for her Revolution. After wooing her producers, Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke to join her onstage, Lambert said, "This music is what I do. It's the only thing I live for. Thanks for loving it, really … changed my life."
Lambert previously won the album prize in 2007, for her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
When she was announced (by Josh Duhamel) to be female vocalist the year, Lambert first embraced Carrie Underwood in the audience, then went up to the stage microphone and said, "You've got to be kidding me."
When it came time for the winner of vocal group of the year, Lady Antebellum returned to the stage and this time Haywood spoke, thanking God and the folks back in Augusta, Georgia. "It is an honor to be part of the best genre in the world," he said.
Carrie's Triple CrownBefore Underwood was again named entertainer of the year, Reba McEntire presented her an award and noted the American Idol winner was part of an elite group of artists who were also named top new artist and top vocalist. "The Academy calls that the Triple Crown," said McEntire.
Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry were honored for their humanitarian work. A breathless Gentry spoke movingly about the work that other country stars had done, as Montgomery wiped tears from his eyes. "This is a very humbling moment" said Gentry, while Montgomery told the audience, "This is the greatest country in the world, baby."
Equally overcome with emotion, top new artist – as decided by the fans – Luke Bryan quickly rattled off the names of those he wanted to thank after first saying, "It's impossible for a human to shake more than [I am] now." Among those he acknowledged were his "beautiful wife Caroline," his parents and his hometown of Leesburg, Georgia. He also looked upward and thanked his late brother and sister, Chris and Kelly, for having a hand in his award.
Matt Sayles / AP