"I've had a lot of good moments in the last four years. This one takes the cake!" said a teary-eyed Underwood, her voice cracking onstage Sunday at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. "I don't know what to say! I got nothing." But she did remember one important person: Raising her trophy, she yelled, "Mike, baby, I wish you were here!" in a shout-out to her boyfriend, Ottawa Senators hockey player Mike Fisher.
Underwood also took home the award for top female vocalist, a repeat of last year's win.
Earlier at the Las Vegas show, which aired on CBS, fellow young blonde phenom Taylor Swift beat out George Strait, Jamey Johnson, Montgomery Gentry and Underwood for album of the year for Fearless. "I think a lot of people who know me know that if I talk to you for more than five minutes, I'm probably going to write a song about you, so that being said I'd like to thank all the characters in my songs: Abigail, Hey Stephen, Tim McGraw and Romeo,” the 19-year-old said.
Brad Paisley also had something to celebrate. For the third year in a row, the singer accepted the honor of top male vocalist, this time from his home in Tennessee, where he and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley were expecting their second child, due any day.
"As you can see, we had the baby!" Paisley joked, pointing to the pal sitting next to him, Little Jimmy Dickens – who started his career in the 1930s. "Kind of a Benjamin Button thing!" Thanking the crowd, Paisley said he wished he could be in Vegas for the show, but "I didn't want to take the chance of missing the birth of our next child."
Night of FirstsDancing with the Stars champ Julianne Hough took home her first singing award, nabbing top new artist honors – a fan-voted award this year – and earning a standing ovation from her peers. Clutching the back of her gold column gown, she took to the podium joking, "It's a good thing my dress ripped – now I have something else to think about!" Hough, whose boyfriend and DWTS partner Chuck Wicks beamed from the audience, wiped away tears and tried to catch her breath as she spoke.
Sugarland became the first duo in 14 years to best powerhouse pair Brooks & Dunn for the top vocal duo ACM, and the band's Jennifer Nettles thanked the crowd with a curtsey.
Rascal Flatts and Jamey Johnson took home the night's first big prizes: Flatts for top vocal group, and Johnson for song of the year with "In Color."
The MusicPerformances by top stars included Swift (whom magician David Copperfield conjured up in a stage trick) singing "You're Not Sorry," Underwood performing "I Told You So" in a deep red cascade of a dress and Miley Cyrus with "Climb."
The show broke out the big guns early with a medley led by Brooks & Dunn and featuring Swift, Sugarland, Underwood and Rascal Flatts. "What an opening!" said host Reba McEntire. "Now that's what I call a stimulus package!"
Single of the Year winner (for "You're Gonna Miss This") Trace Adkins provided the most moving moment of the show, performing "Til the Last Shot's Fired" with the West Point Glee Club, bringing many in the audience (including Nicole Kidman, seated next to husband Keith Urban) to tears.