Wednesday night marked the 55th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, which were held in Nashville, Tennessee.
The star-studded evening had a shocking conclusion, as both Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett won Entertainer of the Year, the first tie for that award since it was first awarded in 1970.
The honor made Underwood the first woman to win the award three times.
First time! Carrie Underwood shocked viewers of the 55th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Nashville with her tied win for Entertainer of the Year with Thomas Rhett
Shared honor: Thomas Rhett was the first to be announced as the winner of Entertainer of the Year
The host, Keith Urban, was visibly stunned and let out a surprised laugh as he read the envelope declaring a tie.
‘This has got to be a first. I’ve never heard of it,’ he guessed correctly.
Rhett beamed from ear-to-ear as he accepted and noted that he only had a paltry 27 seconds to finish his speech before he would be played off.
He kept the speech short and sweet and listed his three daughters, Willa Gray, four, Ada James, three, and seven-month-old Lennon, whom he and his wife Lauren Akins welcomed in February.
Family man: Rhett kept the speech short and sweet and listed his three daughters, Willa Gray, four, Ada James, three, and seven-month-old Lennon, whom he and his wife Lauren Akins welcomed in February
Third time’s the charm: Underwood looked just as thrilled to be making history as the only woman to have one Entertainer of the Year three times
Honored: ‘I am more than happy to share this with Thomas Rhett and just to have my name mentioned with his and Luke [Bryan] and Luke [Combs] and Eric Church, I am beyond honored,’ she said
Underwood looked just as thrilled to be making history as the only woman to have one Entertainer of the Year three times. Her previous wins were back-to-back in 2008 and 2009.
Keith waited to announce her name after Rhett had finished speaking to keeping up the air of surprise.
She joked, ‘2020, man!’ before thanking the ACM Awards for ‘putting me in such incredible company.’
‘I am more than happy to share this with Thomas Rhett and just to have my name mentioned with his and Luke [Bryan] and Luke [Combs] and Eric Church, I am beyond honored,’ she said.
Before handing out the award, Urban joked that he was now the longest reigning Entertainer of the Year winner, since the 2020 show was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Other past recipients have included Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, The Chicks and Garth Brooks, among many others.
The category has traditionally leaned toward men, and Taylor Swift is the only other woman to have won more than once.
Brooks leads all past winners with six wins, and he recently requested that his name be removed from the Entertainer of the Year category at the Country Music Association Awards.
Single of the Year: Blake Shelton started off the 55th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Nashville with his win for Single of the Year
Country superstar Blake Shelton was among the evening’s big winners after he took home the prestigious Single of the Year award for his song God’s Country.
He began his speech, which was piped in from Los Angeles, with a bit of folksy surprise.
‘Holy Cow! Single of the Year!’ he gushed. ‘This is a complete shock and an absolute honor.’
After thanking his producer, he thanked country radio for ‘playing the crap out of not only this song, but you’ve been so good to me with all my singles, and thank you for that.’
He ended the speech with a salute to his partner Gwen Stefani ‘for continuing to encourage me to keep doing this and keep trying and being my inspiration.’
Although he was supposedly performing at the intimate Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Blake appeared to have filmed his performance with Gwen in front of a green screen on the West Coast.
Grateful: After thanking his producer, he thanked country radio for ‘playing the crap out of not only this song, but you’ve been so good to me with all my singles, and thank you for that’
He was featured earlier int he broadcast singing with his partner Gwen Stefani, whom he thanked for ‘continuing to encourage me to keep doing this and keep trying and being my inspiration’
Maren Morris looked ecstatic as she was awarded the Female Artist of the Year trophy.
She’d had a banner 2019 with the release of her acclaimed album Girl, which reached number one on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and number four on the Billboard Hot 200.
‘This is so weird talking to no one but I have so many people to thank,’ she began her speech, referencing the lack of an audience.
‘This is an award I would have never thought I would get to win,’ she continued, before ending her speech with a quick reminder for everyone to vote in the upcoming presidential and local elections.
Morris was already a winner, after winning Music Event of the Year for her collaborative single Fooled Around And Fell In Love with Miranda Lambert and other country singers.
Vote! Maren Morris looked ecstatic as she was awarded the Female Artist of the Year trophy, and she reminded viewers to vote in the upcoming presidential and local elections
Multiple wins: Morris was already a winner, after winning Music Event of the Year for her collaborative single Fooled Around And Fell In Love with Miranda Lambert and other country singers
Luke Combs scored big at the ceremony with the award for Male Artist of the Year.
‘This is a lot to process right now,’ he said as he took to the stage. ‘I just can’t believe this. I just want to thank everybody in my life, my beautiful wife, and the fans. Man, I mean have done everything for me and I love you so much and I can’t wait to keep working and keep making you proud.’
It was a great night for Combs, who earlier won Album of the Year for What You See Is What You Get, which was released back in November.
The LP included all of his earlier EP The Prequel, featuring the singles Beer Never Broke My Heart and Even Though I’m Leaving You.
The country singer sounded overjoyed not only to be accepting the award, but to be doing it from the Bluebird Care.
‘I’m at the bluebird right now, a place I always wanted to play before I moved to town,’ he said during his breathless acceptance speech.
Top of the world: Luke Combs scored big at the ceremony with the award for Album of the Year for What You See Is What You Get, which was released back in November
Country duo Dan + Shay were one of the evening’s first big winners for Duo of the Year.
‘What a great way to start off the night,’ Dan Smyers began his speech, before noting that it was his wife’s birthday.
Dan + Shay were also nominated for Song of the Year for 10,000 hours, which featured Justin Bieber.
The country group Old Dominion were the ultimate winners for their track One Man Band.
‘Wow. Man. That’s a big one,’ gushed singer Matthew Ramsey, who shared a moving story.
‘Songwriting is what got us here. This is not what I thought I would say but we’re sitting here in this empty room and I can hear Andrew, our friend that passed away. I can hear him saying, “I know who you are.” Like he used to yell that at us,’ he said, before remembering other people close to the band who had passed on.
‘They are so proud. And this is such an honor to receive this in their presence. Thank you for this.’
Big win: Dan + Shay were the first televised winers and took home a trophy for best duo; shown September 14 in Nashville
Missed chance: Dan + Shay were also nominated for Song of the Year for 10,000 hours, which featured Justin Bieber
Big win: Country group Old Dominion took home the award for Song of the Year for One Man Band
‘This is not what I thought I would say but we’re sitting here in this empty room and I can hear Andrew, our friend that passed away,’ said singer Matthew Ramsey. ‘I can hear him saying, “I know who you are”‘
Old Dominion were back on stage later to accept the award for Group of the Year.
Singer Matthew Ramsey returned to shout out the group’s road crew, who haven’t been able to work with them much as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shut down most live performances.
‘I think everybody here would be okay if I sent this one out to our road crew who really is getting hit hard right now in these weird times,’ said Ramsey.
‘We love you guys, you work so hard for us. We could not do this without you.’
Leggy display: Lily Aldrige presented the awards for Group of the Year
Behind-the-scenes heroes: ‘I think everybody here would be okay if I sent this one out to our road crew who really is getting hit hard right now in these weird times,’ said Ramsey
Miranda Lambert was one of the early ACM winners for her collaborative song Fooled Around And Fell In Love.
The track featured an all-star lineup including Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack and Elle King.
Miranda and her fellow singers were presented with the Music Event of the Year award Monday on CBS This Morning.
The songstress released the single ahead of her Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars tour, where each of her collaborators also performed.
Another of the advance awards went out to Hillary Lindsey, who won Songwriter of the Year.
Advance notice: Miranda Lambert won Musical Event of the Year on Monday, which was presented early on CBS This Morning
Tenille Townes and Riley Greenwere also awarded early, taking home the New Female and Male Artist of the Year trophies, respectively.
Townes, who hails from Canada, has already released three albums, including her newest, The Lemonade Stand, which was released in June by the prestigious Columbia Nashville label.
She also shared the Music Event of the Year award with Miranda Lambert.
Although Green has recently been getting acclaim in the US, she released her first album back in 2011, when she was only 17 years old.
Head start: Tenille Townes won New Female Artist of the Year before the ceremony
Rising star: Townes also shared Music Event of the Year with Miranda Lambert and an all-star group of women country singers
Green released his debut studio album Different ‘Round Here in September 2019.
He performed his moving song I Wish Grandpas Never Died at the ceremony.
‘This award is such an honor. But I wouldn’t be where I am without a lot of help. I want to thank the fans, country radio, my team here in Nashville, my family and friends back home, and most of all the two men that inspired me to write this next song. Buford Green and Lendon Bonds, this one’s for you,’ he concluded, referencing his two grandfathers.
As there was a five-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the award show wanted to bring the live television experience back again so there aren’t any fake fans, canned applause or pre-taped acceptance speeches.
The awards, normally held in April in Las Vegas, were delayed this year and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time. But while other music award shows have tried a hybrid of virtual stages, music video-style performances or at-home shows, the ACMs will be broadcast on CBS from three indoor stages in Nashville, Tennessee.
Early win: Riley Green was awarded early as New Male Artist of the Year
‘We’ve tried to maintain, for lack of a better word, the normalcy of what we do at the ACM Awards, which is presentations of lot of live performances on stages,’ said R.A. Clark, who is in his 21st year as executive producer of the show.
The performances, some of which are pre-taped, span three historically important stages in country music history, but none will be open for fans.
The smallest, the Bluebird Cafe, accommodated only about 90 people pre-pandemic and the venue helped to start the careers of Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, among many others. Miranda Lambert will sing the aptly titled Bluebird from the small stage, with other performances from Tim McGraw, Jimmie Allen and Luke Combs.
The Ryman Auditorium, an early landmark for gospel and bluegrass as well as country, will feature performances by Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett with Jon Pardi and Kelsea Ballerini.
Even Taylor Swift is making her return to the ACMs after seven years with a performance from her new album Folklore, which has spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. Swift will perform at the Grand Ole Opry House, the center of operations for the live broadcast where host Keith Urban and presenters will give out the awards. Clark said that’s what is setting this pandemic awards show apart from others.
‘Hearing the winners and having live acceptance speeches is essential,’ said Clark.
Top job: Keith Urban was hosting the distanced ceremony on his own, while artists performed at three historic venues across Nashville
A whole new department focusing on COVID-19 precautions and regulations has been added by Dick Clark Productions.
Whether they’re a guitar tech, a grip, an artist or a producer, everyone who enters any of their venues has to take a COVID-19 test, wear a mask and get their temperature checked, said Clark.
But going from a large arena in Las Vegas to three smaller stages has actually given them more flexibility in the pandemic.
‘When we’re at MGM (Grand Arena) or in one venue, there’s so many people crawling all over each other from staff to crew to talent, dressing rooms, all that,’ said Clark. “Part of the benefit of being in three different venues is everybody is spread out and there´s less population density, which helps with our protocols.”
Triumphant return: Taylor Swift made a return to the ACM Awards for a performance of her new song Betty, which was featured on her hit surprise album Folkore, in which she collaborated with The National’s Aaron Dessner
Damon Whiteside, CEO of the ACM, said they have rethought a lot of what they normally do for an awards show, down to setting up a virtual press junket for artists and media ahead of Wednesday’s show. But he also thinks that fans will appreciate the realism that the show is trying to achieve with its performances.
‘When you see an artist on stage and they´re in an empty Ryman Auditorium, and you´re going to see the empty church pews, it´s going to be really powerful,’ said Whiteside. “That for us is more important than having cardboard cut outs or fake applause or things like that.”
Urban, who is the reigning ACM entertainer of the year, will take over show hosting duties this year for the first time and has his work cut out for him. But he´s thankful he´s getting the opportunity at all.
Voice on the dial: Radio host Bobby Bones won the National On-Air Personality Award before the ceremony
‘I´m so glad that they are doing it,’ said Urban. ‘Because I felt for a moment, like are we just going to have to pass on this year? That would be heartbreaking.’
But he joked about how the doling out of awards will look much different this year.
‘I don´t know if it´s gonna look like an NFL Draft night when we hand out the awards,” Urban said laughing. ‘I keep seeing that in my head, like they´ll be over at Miranda Lambert´s house or Eric Church´s or someone´s and they´ll be there going “Woo-hoo!” with their family in the background.’
2020 ACM Awards Winners
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Thomas Rhett – TIE – WINNER
Carrie Underwood – TIE – WINNER
Golden girl: Carrie Underwood took the top honor along with Thomas Rhett in a historic tie for Entertainer of the Year
FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Maren Morris – WINNER
Wow factor: Maren Morris earned Female Artist of the Year
MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Luke Combs – WINNER
DUO OF THE YEAR
Brooks & Dunn
Dan + Shay – WINNER
Florida Georgia Line
Maddie & Tae
GROUP OF THE YEAR
Little Big Town
Old Dominion – WINNER
Squad goals: Old Dominion were a big winner as they earned Group of the Year
NEW FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Tenille Townes – WINNER
NEW MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Riley Green – WINNER
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Center Point Road – Thomas Rhett
GIRL – Maren Morris
Heartache Medication – Jon Pardi
What You See Is What You Get – Luke Combs – WINNER
Wildcard – Miranda Lambert
Double fisting: Luke Combs won Album Of The Year and Male Artist of the Year
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
“God’s Country” – Blake Shelton – WINNER
“One Man Band” – Old Dominion
“Rainbow” – Kacey Musgraves
“Rumor” – Lee Brice
“What If I Never Get Over You” – Lady Antebellum
SONG OF THE YEAR
“10,000 Hours” – Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber
“Girl Goin’ Nowhere” – Ashley McBryde
“God’s Country” – Blake Shelton
“One Man Band” – Old Dominion – WINNER
“Some of It” – Eric Church
VIDEO OF THE YEAR
“10,000 Hours” – Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber
“God’s Country” – Blake Shelton
“One Man Band” – Old Dominion
“Remember You Young” – Thomas Rhett – WINNER
“Sugar Coat” – Little Big Town
Sweet: Thomas Rhett not only took home Entertainer of the Year but also earned Video of the Year
SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR
Hillary Lindsey – WINNER
MUSIC EVENT OF THE YEAR
“10,000 Hours” – Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber
“Dive Bar” – Garth Brooks feat. Blake Shelton
“Fooled Around and Fell in Love” – Miranda Lambert feat. Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack & Elle King – WINNER
“Old Town Road” – Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
“What Happens in a Small Town” – Brantley Gilbert feat. Lindsay Ell