Even with some of country’s powerhouses on hand in Las Vegas for the 42nd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on Tuesday, it was the youngsters who stole the show.
Carrie Underwood, 24, took home album of the year, top female vocalist and best video honors, while 17-year-old Taylor Swift earned buzz with her performance of her hit “Tim McGraw.”
“Every girl should have a night where they can dress up and feel like a princess,” said the high school senior. “I didn’t go to prom this year, so I feel like this could be my equivalent of senior prom.”
Maybe better. Though she lost the best new female vocalist prize to Miranda Lambert, she finally met McGraw: After performing the song as its namesake and wife Faith Hill watched from the audience, beaming, Swift extended her hand, saying, “Hi, I’m Taylor.”
Meanwhile, ACM Awards vet Kenny Chesney, 39, who took entertainer of the year for the third year in a row, said of winning: “It never gets old.”
Accepting his award, he told the crowd, “When I first started playing music, I was in college and I would go rent all my equipment and put it in the back of a pickup truck. The only thing I wanted to do was cut a record as good as Keith Whitley did, and I listened to that music over and over again.”
For 2005 American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, who took home top honors at last month’s CMT Music Awards, the evening was “amazing. It’s just a great night.”
Despite her accolades, she said she’s keeping things in perspective: “It’s really important to prioritize, and I really do have the best job in the world, but you have to remember when the job ends. And when I’m home I have to remember I’m not this marketed thing like Carrie Underwood. You have to stick to your guns and know what’s important.”
And while Underwood had her main man, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, by her side for her big wins, best new female vocalist winner Lambert had nobody to celebrate with. “My boyfriend [country star Blake Shelton] went to the bathroom when I won, so I had no one to hug,” she said.
After coming up short in the past, Brad Paisley, who welcomed a son with wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley in February, finally won – for top male vocalist. “I’m full of emotion right now with this, a new baby and the tour,” he said. “I’m doing things I love to do.”
Paisley also talked about his current tour with Swift and former Idol contestant Kellie Pickler, 20. “It’s really fun, these people are on their way up,” he said. “Taylor, she’s 17. She’s wanting to have a dance at the end of the tour. She wants yearbook photos.”
Veteran performers weren’t overlooked at the awards. George Strait, who led the nominations with eight nods, won for best single and song of the year (for “Give it Away”). Singer-songwriter Bill Anderson, 69, joined Strait in collecting the song of the year trophy and quipped, “I’m old enough to be Carrie Underwood’s grandfather.”
Later, Brooks and Dunn took the award for vocal duo of the year an unprecedented 14th consecutive time.