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Country stars shine at the American Music Awards

Tim McGraw reached out to Elton John, and Shania Twain reached into the audience at the 30th annual American Music Awards.

Tim kicked off the show, singing a duet with Elton on the rock superstar's classic "Tiny Dancer," but jetted home to Nashville too early to pick up his third straight Favorite Male Artist award.

Presenters Martina McBride -- herself the winner of the Favorite Female Artist award -- and Jo Dee Messina, whom Tim co-produces, accepted on his behalf. Martina got another treat when her former backup singer, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, took the Favorite New Artist trophy.

Tim and Elton weren't the night's only big twosome -- Toby Keith sang his upcoming single "Beer For My Horses" with Willie Nelson, and the Dixie Chicks received a pair of awards. Unfortunately, the Chicks weren't on hand to take home their prizes.

Shania Twain was present and accounted for, though, making a show-stopping climb into the crowd on a giant staircase-ladder during her performance of "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!" Also turning up to sing was Kenny Chesney, who ran through his hit "Young."

The biggest honoree of the night, though, was country supergroup Alabama. The Fort Payne foursome received the AMA's Award of Merit, the equivalent of its Nobel Prize, for their decades of great music and charity work. Alabama has won more AMAs than anyone else, by the way -- 22 in all. AMA winners are determined by combining chart statistics from the music-industry trade magazine Radio & Records with data from SoundScan, which tracks the sales of recorded music.