The 55th annual Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM) aired Wednesday night from Nashville, Tennessee – and in a surprising twist, two nominees won the top prize for the Entertainer of the Year category.
“We have a draw. This should be the first in ACM history,” host Keith Urban said before announcing the award.
Thomas Rhett was the first person to be announced for winning the recognition. Rhett thanked the Lord, his wife and his family along with his fans. Urban then took the stage again to announce the second prize, which was awarded to Carrie Underwood.
“2020 man,” Underwood said before accepting the award. “I̵
Earlier in the evening, Underwood and Rhett joined their fellow contestants for the category of entertainer of the year with a host of performances singing to empty seats from music venues around the city to launch the show.
Luke Bryan opened one of country music’s biggest nights by singing his song, “Rain Is a Good Thing”, before throwing it to Eric Church and then to Luke Combs, before Thomas Rhett took over. Underwood closed the opening act by belting out “Before he cheats.”
After the performances, Urban took the stage and took a moment to talk about 2020 and how it has been an “unpredictable and unsettling year for all.”
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After noticing forest fires on the west coast, hurricanes in the south, Urban said the country is battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and social injustice.
“Too many lives have been lost for both,” he said. “But the examples of key workers, our first responders, along with the voices calling for equality in all walks of life, have echoed around the world and right here in our national community.”
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“Country music is a lot of things for a lot of people, but at the center, at the center, at the heart, I think it’s about community,” he continued. “The songs, the stories and the artists that tell them give us healing, comfort, and they bring hope. We could definitely use some of that right now.”
After Urban’s introduction, Jimmie Allen continued to perform at Bluebird Cafe before Old Dominion sang a medley of their biggest hits.
The first on-air award went to Dan + Shay for this year’s duo, while this year’s song went to Old Dominion for “One Man Band.”
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Later in the show, Blake Shelton won this year’s single for his hit “God’s Country.” He thanked God and his girlfriend, Gwen Stefani “for encouraging me … for being my inspiration.”
The couple performed their hit duo “Happy Anywhere” from a green-screened Bluebird Cafe. Meanwhile, Miranda Lambert, formerly married to Shelton, had performed an acoustic version of her hit “Bluebird” at the current location in Nashville earlier in the show.
Elsewhere during the ACMs, Underwood once again took the stage to perform a medley of songs from some of country music’s most iconic women.
The 37-year-old musician covered Dolly Parton’s “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin ‘Like That”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, Reba McEntires “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” , “Barbara Mandrells” I Was Country When Country Was Not Cool “and Martina McBrides” A Broken Wing. “
Another artist on the show was Kane Brown, who performed “Worldwide Beautiful”. Urban introduced Brown, saying the 26-year-old’s song represents “positive change and hope for a better future.”
“I just want everyone to love everyone, and that’s the song I wrote for it,” Brown said before singing his tune.
Taylor Swift also took the stage to perform her song “betty”, marking her first return to the ACM stage in seven years. Unlike her extravagant tours and other award-winning performances, Swift kept it simple with just a few stage spotlights and an accordion player for accompaniment, but her smile glowed as she stumbled and sang the heartbreaking song.
Luke Combs brought this year’s album to his record, “What You See Is What You Get.” Blake Shelton won recognition for this year’s single for his hit “God’s Country.”
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Trisha Yearwood also performed a moving memorial service.
The 55th annual ACM Awards, usually held in April in Las Vegas, were delayed this year and moved to Nashville for the first time.
The performances and segments, a mix of pre-banded and live tracks, flowed between three historically important phases – Grand Ole Opry, Bluebird Cafe and Ryman Auditorium – in country music history, but none were open to fans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report