Chris Stapleton may not be known to a ton of mainstream country music fans, but that’s about to change after Wednesday’s Country Music Association Awards.
The Kentucky bluegrass musician, who released his solo debut album “Traveller” earlier this year to rave reviews, basically walked away with the show. He won three trophies (male artist, new artist and album of the year) and collaborated with pop mega-star Justin Timberlake for a wildly entertaining duet of his “Tennessee Whiskey” and Timberlake’s “Drink You Away.” By the end of the night, Stapleton’s album was No. 1 on iTunes.
“This is an unbelievable thing for me,” Stapleton, 37, said on stage beneath his giant cowboy hat, nearly in tears as he picked up his third award. “And I’m not going to take it lightly.”
Meanwhile, Little Big Town was the other big winner of the night, as the quartet took home vocal group of the year and song and single of the year for their smash “Girl Crush.” As vocalist Karen Fairchild noted on stage, the actual controversial aspect is that it’s “a 6-8 ballad about jealousy and heartache” that succeeded on country radio.
The unstoppable Florida Georgia Line won vocal duo of the year while Miranda Lambert kept her female vocalist streak alive, winning for the sixth year in a row. Superstar Luke Bryan picked up the biggest prize for entertainer of the year with a gracious speech that gave a shout-out to Stapleton, who co-wrote one of his recent hit songs, “Drink a Beer.”
Here are the best and worst moments from the three-hour show:
– That Chris Stapleton/Justin Timberlake collaboration.
Sure, Justin Timberlake – you can go country. Just promise to make every performance like this one.
– Kacey Musgraves and “Dime Store Cowgirl.”
Another critically acclaimed artist ignored by country radio with an impressive performance of her latest single. There were unicorns and lots of glitter involved.
– Miranda Lambert and “Bathroom Sink.”
Despite the fact that her ex-husband Blake Shelton publicly confirmed to the world mere hours earlier that he was dating Gwen Stefani, Lambert held her own with the performance of her latest tune. Unfortunately, her pink hair earned lots of comparisons to Shelton’s new girlfriend.
– Sam Hunt’s lack of performance nerves.
For one music’s fastest-rising stars, Hunt has appeared pretty nervous during his past TV performances. But he was much stronger this time with “Take Your Time,” even after co-host Brad Paisley zinged him for his talk-and-sing style of music.
– Some of those “Star Wars” jokes.
Yes, we know Disney owns both ABC and Lucasfilm, which is why there was an extended “Star Wars” gag at the beginning of the show … but some of the names were pretty clever. Come on, Luke Stagefaller? That’s not bad. Luke Bryan falls a lot.
– Brad Paisley’s line introducing presenter Steve Martin.
“The father of my bride, Steve Martin.” Because Paisley’s wife is Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who played Martin’s daughter in “Father of the Bride.” (OK, maybe it’s not funny if you have to explain it.)
– Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert awkwardness.
You knew something weird would happen with the very recent exes (and former country music power couple), but who knew Shelton would bring it on himself? About 20 minutes before the show started, his publicist released a statement to saying that Shelton is now dating his “Voice” co-star Gwen Stefani. OK then. Later, Lambert looked a bit forlorn as she accepted her trophy for female vocalist of the year. “I needed a bright spot this year, so thank you,” she told the audience.
– Most of the Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood monologue.
While this pair is usually pretty flawless hosting the show, their eighth year of opening monologue/song parodies fell a bit flat. After a lot of build-up, they took it pretty easy on Shelton and Lambert: Noting that there were some high-profile break-ups this year, Paisley said “On a completely unrelated topic: Howdy, Blake!” and made a joke about him singing a duet with Ashley Madison.
Speaking of which, Paisley and Underwood sang a parody of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” called “My Cheatin’ Site” about the hacked infidelity website, with a shout-out to Josh Duggar at the end. That was as controversial as they got, save for a comment about Bruce Jenner being a “babe” now. Oh, and they got political a couple times, calling out Trump for sliding in the polls and poking fun at Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
– Thomas Rhett and Fall Out Boy.
“Crash and Burn” and “Uma Thurman” is already an odd mix. Throw in the fact that it was after Stapleton and Timberlake’s standing ovation … this collaboration was doomed to disappoint.
– William Shatner cameo.
Why was William Shatner as a stormtrooper besides a promotional tie-in for the new “Star Wars” movie? We’ll never know. Unfortunately, it also wasn’t funny.