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44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards


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Country Youth Win Top ACM Awards

by Calvin Gilbert

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Carrie Underwood plants a kiss on her ACM statuette.

She took home awards for Entertainer of the Year and

Top Female Vocalist

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A youthful wind blew through Las Vegas Sunday, April 5 as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift won the two most prestigious awards at the "44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards." In a fan-voted category, Underwood was named the ACM's Entertainer of the Year, making her the first female to win the title since the Dixie Chicks accepted the honor in 2000.

Swift won Album of the Year honors for "Fearless." Other winners during the event at the MGM Grand included Trace Adkins, Jamey Johnson, "Dancing with the Stars" Julianne Hough, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Brad Paisley.

Underwood was clearly surprised by her win in the fan-voted Entertainer of the Year category and was literally at a loss for words during her acceptance speech. "I've had a lot of good moments over the past four years," she said. "This one takes the cake . . . I never thought I'd be nominated, and I never thought I'd win. I don't know what to say. I've got nothing!"

The 26-year-old Singer/Songwriter was more articulate earlier in the evening when she accepted the trophy for Top Female Vocalist. "It is my belief that country music makes the world a better place, and I'm so glad to be a part of country music," Underwood noted. "I feel like I just won 'American Idol' all over again."

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Album of the Year recipient Taylor Swift showed her

versatility at the piano

Swift's win in the Top Album surprised many, especially since the category included recent projects by ACM favorite George Strait, along with Underwood, Johnson and Montgomery Gentry. She shares the award with her producers, Nathan Chapman and Big Machine Records Chief Scott Borchetta.

"I think a lot of people that know me know that if I talk to you for more than five minutes, I'm probably going to write a song about you," the 19-year-old Swift said during her acceptance speech. "That being said, I'd like to thank all the characters in my songs -- Abigail . . . Stephen and Tim McGraw."

"44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards" Show Host Reba McEntire surprised Swift with the ACM's Crystal Milestone Award to recognize that she's sold more albums than any other artist this year and has helped country music attract a younger audience.

"I want to thank my band and crew who go all over the world with us," Swift said. "And to the beautiful fans, to you guys who come out to my shows, I have absolutely fallen in love with you, and I will never forget you -- ever."

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Single Record of the Year Winner Trace Adkins and

the West Point Glee Club paid tribute to the troops

Despite his success and string of hits, Trace Adkins has unfortunately not won many awards, so he also seemed extremely surprised when his recording of "You're Gonna Miss This" was named Single Record of the Year.

"I have to tell you the truth," Adkins said. "This song was recorded by a father whose oldest daughter had just gotten married. It was very personal to me, and I didn't think other people would relate to it the way that I did, so it was put on a greatest hits album as a bonus track."

Adkins said he never thought it would be a single, but he later got a call from Capitol Nashville Chief Mike Dungan, who said the label was going to seek radio airplay for the song. Adkins recalled, "I said, 'Go ahead. Ain't nobody gonna play it.' Glad I'm an idiot."

Song of the Year honors went to "In Color," an emotional song that put singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson in the public eye. "I thank these two guys up here -- Lee Miller and James Otto -- for helping me write this song," Johnson said. "Thanks to my band, too, for going in on an off day and producing an off record."

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Julianne Hough won Top New Artist as well

as Top New Female Vocalist

Julianne Hough won in another fan-voted category -- Top New Artist. She was first named Top New Female Vocalist and was in a field with Jake Owen, who won Top New Male Artist and the Zac Brown Band who took home Top New Vocal Duo or Group, for the bigger prize.

Hough, a professional ballroom dancer who first gained national attention on "Dancing With the Stars," apparently had a wardrobe malfunction on her way to the stage to accept her award. "It's a good thing my dress ripped because now I have something else to think about," she said.

After acknowledging friends and allies in the music industry during her acceptance speech, the golden-adorned and coifed Hough added, "I can't thank you guys enough -- the fans. You guys are amazing. I would not be here without you, so thank you so much."

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Top Vocal Duo Sugarland wowed the country crowd

with their hit, 'It Happens'

Rascal Flatts won in the Top Vocal Group category, and Sugarland picked up a win as Top Vocal Duo. "God, what an amazing ride this has been," Rascal Flatts' bassist Jay DeMarcus exclaimed. "Now I know how Brooks & Dunn feel."

Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles thanked several record company executives but made it a point to express her appreciation to the duo's band. "We've never thanked you either, but you rock," she shouted. "And if you don't believe me, come see them. They'll blow your face off. I love it!"

Immediately, Nettles' musical partner Kristian Bush added, "Thank you for dreaming back every time we dream. We appreciate it." McEntire also presented Nettles the ACM's Crystal Milestone Award for her achievements as an artist and performer.

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Brad Paisley at last year's CMA Awards. He

appeared this year by satellite while waiting

the birth of his second child.

One of the other big winners -- nervous expectant father Brad Paisley -- was not present to accept his award as Top Male Vocalist. He was in Nashville, where his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, will soon be delivering their second child.

In accepting the award via satellite, Paisley pointed to Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens, who was sitting with him, and joked, "As you can see, we had the baby." Paisley had already won Video of the Year honors for "Waitin' on a Woman" and a Vocal Event of the Year Award for "Start a Band," his duet with Keith Urban. Those categories were announced in March.

In accepting the Male Vocalist Award, Paisley commented, "I really want to thank you for this. I wish I could be there, but I didn't want to take the chance of missing the birth of our next child. Thank you for understanding."

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Top Vocal Group Rascal Flatts took the audience by

storm with their hit, 'Me and My Gang'

In addition to the awards presentations, there was music -- and lot of it. Brooks & Dunn broke the ice by opening the show with their 2005 hit, "Play Something Country." The older song was an appropriate choice, however, with the ACM's star power on full display with snippets of major hits performed by four of country's top acts.

Taylor Swift continued the music fest with her hit, "Picture to Burn." Other music on the evening's program included Sugarland singing "It Happens," Carrie Underwood paid tribute to the "All-American Girl" and Rascal Flatts performed "Me and My Gang." McEntire joked, "Now that's what I call a stimulus package."

One of the highlights came when Adkins was joined by the West Point Glee Club to sing "Til the Last Shot's Fired," a track from his most recent album. His performance, in support of the Wounded Warrior Project, was introduced by wheelchair-bound Marine Lt. Andrew Kinard, who was injured in Iraq.

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Surrounded by vintage photographs, Jamey Johnson

performs the Song of the Year, 'In Color'

When Jamey Johnson performed "In Color," the stage was filled with photographs, but he paid a subtle tribute to a departed friend when the camera caught a musician's road case with Randy Hardison's name on it. Hardison, a noted drummer, was murdered outside his Nashville-area apartment in 2002.

Famed magician David Copperfield somehow made Taylor Swift appear out of nowhere -- into an elevator-shaped box that descended from the ceiling. She exited to walk to a grand piano to perform "You're Not Sorry" complete with a string section.

Blake Shelton, who was already scheduled to present one of the awards, was added at the last minute as a performer to fill in for Tim McGraw, who canceled his ACM appearance following an apparent dispute with the awards show's producers during rehearsals on Saturday. Shelton rose to the occasion by turning in an acoustic version of his latest No. 1 hit, "She Wouldn't Be Gone."

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Going solo, John Rich moved the country audience

with his latest single, 'Shuttin' Detroit Down'

John Rich also opted for an acoustic performance of his latest single, "Shuttin' Detroit Down." Host Reba McEntire debuted her new single, "Strange," and Miranda Lambert also introduced a new song, "Dead Flowers" -- not to be confused with the Rolling Stones song of the same title.

Other songs were provided by Kenny Chesney with "Out Last Night," Heidi Newfield with "Johnny and June," Toby Keith with "God Love Her," George Strait with "Troubadour," Lady Antebellum with "I Run to You," Lee Ann Womack with "Solitary Thinking," Keith Urban with "Kiss a Girl," Miley Cyrus with "The Climb," Montgomery Gentry with "One in Every Crowd" and Sugarland with "What I'd Give".

If any performance of the evening bridged the gap between the old and new, it was Carrie Underwood's delivery of "I Told You So," her version of one of Randy Travis' early hits. Aside from demonstrating the vocal power that earned her the Top Female Vocalist honor, she also proved that great country songs are timeless and can appeal to listeners of all ages.

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44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards
(winners will appear highlighted in red)

Entertainer of the Year
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
George Strait
Keith Urban

Carrie Underwood

Top Male Vocalist
Kenny Chesney
Toby Keith

Brad Paisley
George Strait
Keith Urban


Top Female Vocalist
Miranda Lambert
Heidi Newfield
Taylor Swift

Carrie Underwood
Lee Ann Womack

Top Vocal Group
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town

Rascal Flatts
Randy Rogers Band
The Lost Trailers


Top Vocal Duo
Big & Rich
Brooks & Dunn
Joey & Rory
Montgomery Gentry

Sugarland

Top New Male Vocalist
Jamey Johnson
James Otto

Jake Owen

Top New Female Vocalist
Sarah Buxton
Julianne Hough
Ashton Shepherd

Top New Duo or Vocal Group
Eli Young Band
The Lost Trailers

Zac Brown Band

Top New Artist
Jake Owen
Julianne Hough
Zac Brown Band

Album of the Year
(Award to Artist/Producer/Record Company)
"Back When I Knew It All"
Artist: Montgomery Gentry
Producer: Blake Chancey
Record Company: Columbia Nashville


"Carnival Ride"
Artist: Carrie Underwood
Producer: Mark Bright
Record Company: Arista Nashville


"Fearless"
Artist: Taylor Swift
Producers: Scott Borchetta, Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift
Record Company: Big Machine


"That Lonesome Song"
Artist: Jamey Johnson
Producers: Jamey Johnson and the Kent Hardly Playboys
Record Company: Mercury Nashville


"Troubadour"
Artist: George Strait
Producer: Tony Brown
Record Company: MCA Nashville


Single Record of the Year
(Award to Artist/Producer/Record Company)
"Gunpowder & Lead"
Artist: Miranda Lambert
Producers: Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke
Record Company: Columbia


"In Color"
Artist: Jamey Johnson
Producers: The Ken Hardley Playboys
Record Company: Mercury


"Johnny & June"
Artist: Heidi Newfield
Producer: Tony Brown
Record Company: Asylum-Curb


"Waitin' On a Woman"
Artist: Brad Paisley
Producer: Frank Rogers
Record Company: Arista Nashville


"You're Gonna Miss This"
Artist: Trace Adkins
Producer: Frank Rogers
Record Company: Capitol Nashville


Song of the Year
(Award to Composer/Publisher/Artist)
"I Saw God Today"
Artist: George Strait
Writers: Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell, Wade Kirby
Publishers: Big Red Toe Music (BMI), Blind Mule Music (BMI), Extremely Loud Music (BMI), Steel Wheels Music (BMI)


"In Color"
Artist: Jamey Johnson
Writers: Jamey Johnson, Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto
Publishers: Big Gassed Hitties (BMI), Eldorotto Music Publishing (BMI), EMI Blackwood Music, Inc., Lucky Thumb Music (BMI), New Song of Sea Gayle (BMI), Noah
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