THE FANS HAVE SPOKEN

Alan Jackson had a theory about why he took home five awards from this year's TNN & CMT Country Weekly Music Awards. He had his good-luck charms close by.

"I brought my two oldest daughters with me," said Alan backstage. "I think they brought me luck."

But Alan knew it took more than the support of 11-year-old Mattie and 7-year-old Ali to fill his arms with trophies - it took a legion of loyal fans. "The fans were really good to me tonight," he said gratefully.

Those fans were also good to George Strait, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Billy Gilman and the Dixie Chicks - who all won awards during a three-hour spectacular that also saw Vince Gill honored for his illustrious career, and Kathy Mattea for her humanitarian good works.

Vince tearfully accepted the Country Weekly Career Achievement Award on a stage packed with his family, friends and supporters. "For me, the best part of tonight was seeing all Vince's friends' faces," said Vince's wife, Amy Grant, afterward. "That was really beautiful."

While Vince's big moment was a tear-jerker, the thousands who packed Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center and millions more watching at home hardly had time to put away their hankies when a heart-tugging presentation of the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award soon followed. It was given to Kathy Mattea for her work to raise awareness of AIDS and find a cure for it and other diseases.

"It's the last thing I expected," said Kathy backstage, still shaken up after the moving presentation. "It was one of the rare moments in my life when I've been speechless - [and] I've been talking since I came out of the womb! This is the first time I haven't had words."

Another unforgettable moment was the house-rockin' return of Chris LeDoux to the stage just eight months after a liver transplant saved his life. Chris stormed back into the spotlight, testing his mettle by riding a bucking mechanical bull while singing the raucous "For Your Love" on the live CMT and TNN simulcast.

"It seems like he has more energy now than he ever had," marveled Charlie Daniels, who made a surprise appearance - with his fiddle - during Chris' performance. "I thought he was going to jump through the ceiling!"

Also very excited was Billy Gilman, who took home the newcomer-category Discovery Award. "Never in a million years would I imagine winning an award like this," said Billy, who was allowed to attend despite being grounded by his mom for flipping his four-wheeler without a helmet. "I'm loving every minute of it."

Tim McGraw was having a good time, too. He popped up in the backstage area holding hands with wife Faith Hill (who emceed Vince's Career Achievement segment). Tim wasn't performing, so his biggest concern was "getting dressed," he said, shaking his head with a smile. "The house was like a madhouse!"

Elsewhere backstage, Terri Clark was just trying to get comfortable. "I always feel like a wallflower at a high school dance at these things," she said. "You're afraid no one's gonna talk to you, you're afraid no one's gonna ask you to dance."

Terri's fellow presenter Sherrié Austin was a little more laid-back. "Backstage at awards shows is always the same," she chuckled. "Lots of people running around with walkie-talkies, and us trying to fit in our dresses and make sure that our boobs look good and our hair is big enough."

Lonestar lead singer Richie McDonald was still pumped up after his band's performance of their current hit, "I'm Already There." "It's a party crowd out there!" he declared. "It's like a live concert!"

According to co-host Terry Bradshaw, what really stoked the audience to a frenzy was his own singing perfor-mance. Midway through the show, he encouraged fans at home to vote in an online poll as to whether he should be allowed to perform. They voted yes, and Terry donned a cowboy hat and tore into a bouncy tune. "The people went crazy!" he recalled. "They were jumping out of the house, starting a war, lifting the roof off!"

Terry may have been exaggerating a little, but Toby Keith was impressed enough to

later suggest a little musical collaboration with his old pal. "We're thinking about teaming up," said Toby. "Instead of Brooks & Dunn, we're gonna be called 'Over and Done!' "

When the show itself was over and done, the stars scattered into the Nashville night for a little celebration. Eddie Montgomery, who performed on the show with partner Troy Gentry, headed out the door with a shout. "We're off," he yelled, "to have us some fun!"

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