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Taylor Swift continued her reign as Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, held Sunday (April 1) in Las Vegas. “I want to say to my fellow nominees in the category, I respect you and I love you. We work hard and we try to give back,” Taylor said in accepting the award. “My date tonight was supposed to be [cancer patient] Kevin McGuire but he couldn't be here, so I wanted to give him a shout-out. Thank you for wanting to take me to the ACMs.”
Miranda Lambert was also a big winner, taking home the Album of the Year trophy for her 2011 release Four the Record, as well as the Female Vocalist of the Year award. “Seriously? I own every record in this category,” Miranda said in accepting the Album trophy. “I''ve been listening and listening, and thinking 'I'm not going to get it.' Every record is amazing. I will never take this trophy for granted. Albums are my babies, it's what makes me wake up in the morning,” she said.
She expanded on her comments backstage. "My albums consume my life," she said. "They drive my career. My albums set up set up everything that has to do with me in general. So when I say they are like my children, it really is."
Miranda's last album, Revolution, won the Album of the Year hardware in 2010, and this marks her third consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year title. She later gave an emotional performance of “Over You,” a song she co-wrote with husband Blake Shelton about his brother Richie, who died in a car accident.
Jason's smash duet with Kelly Clarkson, "Don't You Wanna Stay," continued to pay dividends. The pair won Vocal Event of the Year and Single of the Year for their performance of the song. "Thank y'all so much for welcoming me from the pop world,” Kelly told the ACM audience.
Backstage, Jason raved about Kelly. "She’s, in my opinion one of the best female singers around period, in any genre of music," he said. "To have her come on and be part of our record was unbelievable.”
Blake, who was co-host for the evening with Reba McEntire, didn't take home the Entertainer of the Year trophy, but he got a shock when he was named Male Vocalist of the Year. “I didn't see that coming at all. Co-hosting this, I haven't even thought about this at all,” said Blake, after Taylor presented the award. “I was sitting [backstage] and I was repeating the lines to Dierks [Bentley's] song [“Home”]: It's been a long hard ride got a ways to go and that's how I feel.” Blake ended the show with a performance of “You Are” with Lionel Richie.
Rock Band KISS presented the Vocal Group of the Year trophy to Lady Antebellum, who won the award for the third consecutive year. “Look mom, KISS!” said Charles Kelley. The award was a nice surprise for birthday girl and Lady Antebellum member Hillary Scott, who turned 26 on Sunday. The group later performed “Dancin' Away With My Heart.”
Carrie Underwood, who won Entertainer of the Year in 2010 and 2009, kicked off the show with “Good Girl.” If last year's audience reaction to the musical pairing of Carrie with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler was any indication, the ACM's decided to pack on the duets for this year's show. Prior to their Brothers of the Sun tour, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney performed their new song “Rock Star.” Brad Paisley joined Zac Brown Band for “Whiskey's Gone” while Rascal Flatts performed their single “Banjo” with guest Steve Martin.
It wasn't a star that provided one of the show's biggest highlights—it was engaged couple Christina Davidson and Frank Tucci, who exchanged their vows onstage during the show, while Martina McBride and Train's Pat Monahan performed “Marry Me.”
“Crazy Girl,” which was Eli Young Band's first No. 1 Billboard Country Songs hit in 2011, also garnered the Texas-bred band their first ACM Award, for Song of the Year—as well as a high-five from Taylor Swift on their way to the stage to accept the trophy. “Holy cow. I have dreamed about this moment my whole life,” said lead singer Mike Eli, before giving some advice for up-and-coming artists. “Follow your dreams, believe in yourself and do it.” The song's writers Lee Brice and Liz Rose also took the stage.
Announced prior to the televised portion of the show, Thompson Square won their first ACM Vocal Duo of the Year trophy, joining Sugarland and Brooks & Dunn as the only acts to win the award in 20 years. "It just keeps getting better and better," Keifer Thompson said backstage. "This last year and a half has just been amazing. It took us 13 years to get a record deal and [we were] on the brink of quitting everything."
Other highlights of the evening include reigning American Idol winner Scotty McCreery winning the fan-voted title New Artist of the Year, and U2's Bono introducing friend Dierks Bentley as Dierks performed, “Home.” Chris Young, nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year (“Tomorrow”), performed “Save Water, Drink Beer” as audience members held up beer glasses. The love of alcoholic beverages continued as Toby Keith later led an audience-wide sing-a-long to “Red Solo Cup,” as the camera caught Carrie Underwood singing along and Eric Church holding up some solo cups of his own.
Five time ACM-winner Keith Urban's performance of “For You,” a song he penned for the movie Act of Valor, received a standing ovation from the crowd.