Eileen Finan, Brian Orloff, and Kay West
November 12, 2008 11:00 PM

The Country Music Association promised a major surprise in the lead up to Wednesday’s CMA Awards – and it came at the tail-end of the three-hour telecast: Shania Twain presented the final honor of the night – entertainer of the year – to Kenny Chesney.

“You look really good tonight!” he said as he took the trophy in his hands.

Twain, wearing a low-cut Missoni gown, had walked out to a standing ovation. “It’s good to see all of you too,” she told the crowd Wednesday at Nashville’s Sommet Center. “I hope to be seeing a lot more of you.”

Twain, 43, won the coveted entertainer of the year award in 1999, and was last at the CMA awards in 2004.

PEOPLE first reported that Twain was expected at the ceremony on Wednesday. Her presence marked the singer’s first public appearance since announcing her separation from husband Robert “Mutt” Lange in May.

A Warm Welcome

Once Twain arrived at the ceremony, the stars were buzzing.

Shania at the CMAs
Rick Diamond/WireImage

“Well, I hear she’s single,” Jimmy Wayne told PEOPLE. “Maybe I’ll be able to run into her!”

Former tourmate John Michael Montgomery sent his best wishes to the singer, telling PEOPLE, “I just hate the fact that she went through her trials and tribulations, and I hope that she comes back as strong as ever. If she puts her mind to it, you ain’t going to stop her.”

New artist of the year nominee James Otto, who also toured with Twain, praised her crossover appeal. “She opened up country music to so many people who had never listened to it before,” he told PEOPLE. “She really made a mark on country music.”

Martina McBride summed up everybody’s excitement, telling PEOPLE, “I’m so glad she’s here tonight.”

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