A few tears, some expected wins, the sounds of Stevie Wonder, and even a surprise ending made up the three-hour-long Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday in Las Vegas.\
The surprise? The show's co-host Luke Bryan scored the evening's coveted entertainer of the year honor, topping familiar favorites Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert, along with Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean.
If some viewers were surprised by Bryan's win, then Bryan himself looked even more shocked upon hearing his name, standing with his head down for a while, almost appearing to fight back a tear or two.
"I don't know what to say, guys...Thank you guys so much...This is a defining moment of my life," he told the crowd.
Lambert was the big winner of the night with three honors: female vocalist of the year (for the fourth straight year), record of the year and single record of the year for "Over You," a song she and her husband, Blake Shelton, co-wrote in memory of Shelton's late brother.
One of the most tender moments of the night came when Lambert and Shelton took the stage to accept the song of the year award. Shelton said Lambert "blows me away," adding, "She really taught me how to write a good song."
Lambert said, "As a songwriter, having your song and your lyrics recognized by your peers is pretty much as good as it gets. And I'm so thankful for being in this genre of country music, every single time someone's nominated, I just cheer, because I love everybody to death."
The Academy of Country Awards didn't waste any time showcasing some of today's biggest country stars Sunday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas.
Shelton kicked off the 48th annual awards show with a star-studded performance of his new single, "Boys 'Round Here," alongside Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, and Pistol Annies, including Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley.
Co-hosts Shelton and Bryan, got the night under way with some friendly banter -- namely poking fun at each other. Bryan said, "Blake's jeans are like buying something on credit -- nothing up front. I mean, what size are those, extra empty?" They also called out a few "lucky" audience members, including Kelly Clarkson and Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum.
With all of the performances, the evening's first honor -- vocal duo of the year -- didn't come until almost 9 p.m. ET. Thompson Square took home the award for the second straight year, beating out Big & Rich, Florida Georgia Line, Love And Theft and Sugarland.
Leading nominee Eric Church (with seven nominations) scored album of the year for "Chief," topping Taylor Swift's "Red," Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away," Bryan's "Tailgates & Tanlines" and Little Big Town's "Tornado." "I can't believe I just met John Fogerty. We should hang out later," he said to Creedence Clearwater Revival's Fogerty, who presented the album honor with Lambert. But that wasn't his first award of the evening. Before the ceremony even began, Church won vocal event of the year for his collaboration with Bryan and Jason Aldean on "The Only Way I Know."
Little Big Town won vocal group of the year, beating Eli Young Band, Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry and Zac Brown Band. Newcomers Florida Georgia Line, meanwhile, won for new artist of the year.
The male vocalist of the year honor went to Aldean.
Other awards were handed out prior to the live broadcast on CBS, including Little Big Town's other win -- video of the year for "Tornado."
Music dominated the ceremony, with performances in the first hour by Kenny Chesney and Church, as well as George Strait, who performed "Give It All We Got Tonight." Lady Antebellum debuted the new song, "Downtown," and Carrie Underwood channeled her music video when she emerged from a black Cadillac to sing her single, "Two Black Cadillacs."
John Mayer, who is returning to the road for the first time since facing vocal issues, linked up with Brad Paisley on "Beat This Summer." Swift, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw joined forces on "Highway Don't Care."
Presenters included Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, Gary Allan, Chris Young, Eli Young Band, Beth Behrs, Michael Chiklis, Kaley Cuoco, Fogerty, Kevin Frazier, Colin Kaepernick, Lambert, Scotty McCreery, Musgraves, Nancy O'Dell, Jake Owen, Keith Urban, Tori Kelly and LL Cool J.
Reba McEntire got emotional while introducing the night's tribute to Dick Clark, saying, "He would slap me if he saw me crying up here." Garth Brooks and George Strait then teamed up for the first time, performing a tribute to Clark, the show's longtime producer, who died last year. Brooks sang "The Dance" before Strait joined him for "The Cowboy Rides Away."
And the music continued to the bitter end of the show, with Hunter Hayes' performance of "I Want Crazy." He was then joined by Wonder for "Sir Duke."
Wonder, who performed at his first-ever country music awards event, closed out the night with a performance of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," which got the country music stars out of their seats for a fitting end to the ceremony.
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