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Monday, April 06, 2009

Don't let the 10-gallon hats and odd odes to tractors fool you—the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards knew how to keep it real.

From erstwhile reality show winners Carrie Underwood and Julianne Hough triumphing once more—and with hardware that will no doubt put a certain mirrorball trophy to shame—to surprising, diva-like superstar dropouts (sorry, Tim McGraw fans), to an amazingly topical performance of "Shuttin' Down Detroit" from John Rich, the Reba McEntire-hosted awards show did their best to prove that the current crop of twangers are nothing if not relevant.

Doing their part to keep things modern were Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and arm candy Nicole Kidman and—no awards show would be complete without her—Miley Cyrus.

And while Brad Paisley ended up king of the night, taking home a leading three awards, it was double winner Underwood who proved the evening's queen, becoming the first artist in five years to unseat Kenny Chesney as the fan-voted Entertainer of the Year, the highest honor of the night, and the first female performer to take home the prize since the Dixie Chicks did it way back in 2000.

"I've had a lot of good moments over the past four years," she said. "This one takes the cake."

"Things are changing," presenter Jamie Foxx said later, referencing not Underwood's win, but Darius Rucker's recent foray onto the country charts. "An African-American singing country. Things are changing. Got a black man running the country. Things are changing.

"I mean, what's next, white people going to Tyler Perry movies?"

The night, which took place not in Nashville but Las Vegas, started off with a medley of performances from Underwood, Swift, Sugarland, Rascal Flatts and Brooks & Dunn.

"Now that's what I call a stimulus package," McEntire said of the star-studded opening number, going on to joke about country's recent crossover success.

"It seems like everyone wants to do a country album these days—even Michael Phelps and Willie Nelson are teaming up to do a country album. They're covering the Doobie Brothers."

The show wasted no time in doling out the prizes.

One of the night's big winners, as expected, was Underwood, who in addition to her Entertainer of the Year nod took home the prize for Top Female Vocalist.

"I feel like I won American Idol all over again," she said.

Fellow reality cutie and Dancing With the Stars pro Hough also managed to snag two awards, Top New Artist and Top New Female Artist, and got plenty emotional doing it.

"It's a good thing my dress ripped, cause now I have something else to think about," she said. "I can't thank you guys enough—the fans. You guys are amazing. I would not be here without you."

Country faves Sugarland snagged the Top Vocal Duo Award, while Rascal Flatts, as expected, walked away with the Top Vocal Group Award.

"God, what an amazing ride this has been," bassist Jay DeMarcus said in accepting the nod. "Now I know how Brooks & Dunn feel."

Paisley, who at six nominations had more than any other nominee, took home the award for Top Male Vocalist, albeit remotely. The singer was home with wife Kimberly Williams, who is expected to go into labor, well, any minute now.

"I really want to thank you for this," he said via satellite. "I wish I could be there, but I didn't want to take the chance of missing the birth of our next child."

Despite his absence, Paisley tripled his pleasure at the ACM Awards, taking home Video of the Year for "Waitin' On a Woman," and Vocal Event of the Year, which he shared with Urban for their duet "Start a Band."

Meanwhile, providing the show with its requisite amount of drama was a last-minute pull-out by McGraw, who was due to perform alongside wife Faith Hill. McGraw reportedly backed out after a major disagreement over production design for his planned number. The Tennessean went so far as to claim he walked out of rehearsal Saturday night over the dispute.

As for Cyrus, who got tongues wagging in the run-up to tonight's show that the pop star was fixin' to make her career a little more country, a little less rock 'n roll in the coming years, performed "The Climb." She was introduced by papa Billy Ray who, never missing an opportunity to hype his superstar daughter, let loose with a flurry of release dates and Hannah Montana-type hawking in his preamble to the performance.

Fellow young'un Swift also performed at the show, and after being honored with the Top Album of the Year Award for Fearless, she was presented with a surprise piece of hardware by McEntire.

After her performance of "You're Not Sorry," crossover queen Swift was presented with a special ACM Crystal Mileston Award for bringing so many young people to country music.

"Are you serious?" the clearly surprised Swift asked. "To you guys who come to my show, I have absolutely fallen in love with you and will never forget you, ever."

Here's the complete list of winners for the 44th Annual ACM Awards:

•Entertainer of the Year: Carrie Underwood
•Top Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley
•Top Female Vocalist: Carrie Underwood
•Top Vocal Group: Rascal Flatts
•Top Vocal Duo: Sugarland
•Top New Artist: Julianne Hough
•Top New Male Artist: Jake Owen
•Top New Female Artist: Julianne Hough
•Top New Vocal Duo or Group: Zac Brown Band
•Single Record of the Year: Trace Adkins, "You're Gonna Miss This"
•Top Album of the Year: Taylor Swift, Fearless
•Song of the Year: Jamey Johnson, "In Color"
•Video of the Year: Brad Paisley, "Waitin' On a Woman"
•Vocal Event of the Year: Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, "Start a Band"

by:E! online

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