Star-Packed CMA Show Ropes In Viewers

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• November 10, 2011

Aldean wins Album of the Year.

A strong performance line-up scored top ratings for last night’s (11/9) CMA Awards, making ABC the most-watched network of the night with an average of 16.3 million viewers tuning in, according to Zap2It. This comes following a 10-year contract extension between the CMA and ABC, announced yesterday. By comparison, last year the show drew about 16.45 million viewers.

First time nominees and winners The Band Perry and Jason Aldean scored multiple honors, but otherwise no act walked away with more than a single trophy, meaning more artists, and their teams are merrily basking in today’s post-CMA glow. For the audience at home and in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the evening played mostly like a super-cool three-hour concert where they happened to hand out a few awards. The amazing stage set cascaded in waves of warm gold, glowing like the lights of a Las Vegas casino.

Aldean’s hard-earned and much deserved wins included Album of the Year. He shared the honor with longtime producer Michael Knox for the double platinum, envelope-pushing My Kinda Party. Accepting proudly, Aldean recalled first meeting the producer who would prove so impactful on his career: “This guy found me in a club in Atlanta, Georgia, brought me to Nashville 15 years ago and has made every record I’ve ever done.” Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s super duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” was a shoo-in for Vocal Event.

His performance of “Tattoos On This Town” showcased what he does best: no frills, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, amped up country rock. Onstage he delivers a straight-ahead, full-throttle concert, in the studio he’s a little more adventurous, such as invoking country rap for the mega hit “Dirt Road Anthem.”

Swift receives a standing ovation from her peers. Photo: Caitlin Rantala

A monumental world tour and a gazillion album sales earned Taylor Swift her second Entertainer of the Year trophy. From the acceptance stage she thanked artists from Usher to Tim McGraw who joined her as surprise guests on the road. This entertainment mastermind doesn’t do anything halfway, so it was fitting that her extremely stripped down performance of “Ours” came with a sparse set and modest “what-I-wear-around-the-house” wardrobe. For the star it was a leap forward, showcasing the song without the distracting over-the-top theatrics that have boggled happy fans on her Speak Now tour. Still, given Swift’s M.O., I was waiting for the costume tear-away that never came.

Hot husband and wife Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert continued their respective reigns as Male and Female Vocalists of the Year. Shelton turned the fun loose from the get-go with opening number “Footloose,” featuring the song’s original hitmaker Kenny Loggins and offering the first of many pyrotechnic spectacles.

When Lambert marched onstage to perform current single “Baggage Claim” she came off like an artist in charge, completely in command of the stage, band and crowd. And no country awards show would be complete without ‘Ran setting something on fire, so she obliged with some pyro for the finale. And for the record, her newest album Four The Record has already secured my vote for 2012 CMA Album of the Year.

The Band Perry wins Single of the Year as presenter Kellie Pickler applauds.

The Band Perry and their monster hit “If I Die Young” swept the MusicRow Awards earlier this year, and the sibling trio continued the trophy take-homes last night, winning Single and New Artist. As sole writer, Kimberly Perry also received Song of the Year. Enduringly elegant, she explained to the fans, “Thank you for bringing ‘If I Die Young’ to life…I truly believe that ‘If I Die Young’ would have been written with or without me, it was a song that was meant to be. But I was so excited to have pen and paper in hand when it was ready to come to earth.” She stunned during their performance of “All Your Life,” oozing confidence in a red-sequined floor-length sheath. It was a bold look we haven’t seen from her before, maybe she taking notes from show-stopping tourmate Reba. Word is, Mom Perry handles wardrobe for the siblings.

Wardrobe was also a key part of Lady Antebellum’s performance of “We Owned The Night.” The band led an onstage chorus in the song, with everyone dressed in striking black and white contrast.

Zac Brown Band’s take on “Georgia On My Mind” featuring Gregg Allman warmed this Georgian’s heart, but left me wondering why they chose a cover song for the second time in three years. Either way, ZBB kills it on the classics.

Fellow Georgian Luke Bryan kept the stage hot with “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).” The routine involved a crew of dancers and even had the star busting out a few dance moves of his own…oh, and more pyro.

Co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood kept the banter lively, exchanging Tim and Faith Barbie dolls, joking about Bradcephus with Hank Jr., and carousing with Little Jimmy Dickens dressed as Justin Bieber.

Keith Urban was the first of several great performers to pop up on a stage in the middle of the crowd. Following suit was sunny Scotty McCreery, fine voiced Chris Young, and party-hearty Eric Church. (He is one of my faves, but needs to lose the shades in the dark.) Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter offered mid-audience acoustic matrimony on “You And Tequila.” With director Shaun Silva, it won Video of the Year.

Accepting the Duo award, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush explained, “Our fans saved us this year.” Indeed, the Indiana State Fair tragedy made it a difficult year for the band and crew. They recently returned to the area for a benefit concert. Sugarland’s stage show is something of power, and they turned in a passionate set last night with pop rocker Matt Nathanson.

Fantastic pairings helped fuel the extravaganza. Lionel Richie was joined by Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, and Darius Rucker on some of his biggest hits. The Flatts also teamed with soaring pop vocalist Natasha Bedingfield. Faith Hill looked outside of country to find her latest song, “Come Home,” which was first recorded by OneRepublic. She gave a dramatic read of the single during her first CMA Awards performance in five years. Also joining forces were Urban, Paisley and Vince Gill for a tribute to ailing Glen Campbell. And producers tapped twirling acrobats to accent Sara Evans’ performance of “Stronger.”

Fiery opening number "Footloose." Photo: Caitlin Rantala

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About the Author

Sarah Skates is Sr. News Editor of MusicRow Enterprises. Now in her tenth year with the company, she contributes to musicrow.com and the print magazine. She welcomes your inquiries to sskates@musicrow.com. Please send press releases, photos, and news items to news@musicrow.com.

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