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A country star co-hosting an MTV red carpet show? It's the power of chart-topper Taylor Swift, who this year popped up everywhere from the VMAs to the CMAs – and even landed a role in the upcoming Hannah Montana movie. "I feel like the luckiest girl in the world," Swift said in November, rebounding from a high-profile breakup with Joe Jonas and going on to win favorite country female at the American Music Awards.
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This dancing queen proved she doesn't just jive, but can wail too. After leaving Hollywood, the two-time DWTS champ stormed Nashville with her Top 20 hit "Song in My Head," only to join country royalty at the CMA Awards, where she presented alongside fellow newcomers Jake Owen and Jimmy Wayne. But she hasn't totally hung up her dancing shoes. "I want to be a respectable singer, but I'm a dancer at heart too," she told PEOPLE this year. "I can't sit still when music comes on!"
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This year, the bubbly blonde continued her country winning streak, with her self-titled sophomore disc debuting at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart and at No. 9 on the cross-genre Top 200. Now she's taking her cowboy boots to the Big Apple, where she'll join Ryan Seacrest as co-host of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve Special.
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Bye-bye, Blowfish: The former Hootie singer jumped ship this year, releasing his debut country album and becoming the third African-American to hit No. 1 on the country singles chart, with "Don't Think I Don't Think About It." To top it off, he placed among PEOPLE's Sexiest Men of the year. "The only thing sexy about me," he says, "might be my voice. I'm not that good-looking, but I sing."
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From Tinsletown back to Texas, this southern girl returned to her roots, releasing the hit country album Do You Know – and nabbing herself a hometown hottie, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. "I'm planning on making country [music] for the rest of my life, and I don't want to go back to that other world," she said of her onetime pop career.
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Taking a break from firing up the Billboard charts with his No. 1 hit "You're Gonna Miss This," the country star stepped off stage and into the boardroom on Celebrity Apprentice, where he made it into the final two. Like all the stars on the show, Adkins competed on behalf of a charity. "I raised a lot of awareness for the Food Allergy amp Anaphylaxis Network," he told CMT.com. "I achieved what I set out to [on the show]."
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MIRANDA & BLAKE
Rocking the stage together as a modern day Johnny and June, these two love birds took their musical act across the country this fall, drawing fans who wanted to watch their onstage chemistry as well as their performances. "It's such a great thing to be with your best friend," Lambert told CMT.com. "That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, although we get to do it every night that we can." Offstage, Lambert earned herself two CMA nominations this year and Shelton landed himself a place on PEOPLE's Sexiest Men of the Year list.
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She wasted no time making friends in Nashville: The cross-over sensation nabbed a judging gig on Nashville Star alongside John Rich and Jeffrey Steele and toured with Brad Paisley this summer, whom she successfully got "arrested" – solidifying her place in the country music scene. ”If 'You Were Meant for Me' was released today, it would be a country song, I’d be signed to a Nashville label and my music would be promoted on country radio,” the singer said.
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Rebounding from last year's stint in rehab, 2008 was nothing but good to Keith Urban, who welcomed baby daughter Sunday Rose, with wife Nicole Kidman, on July 7. When he wasn't stepping out to glam red-carpet appearances with Kidman, Urban was holding his own – even joining pop stars Natasha Bedingfield and Usher at the NFL season kick-off in N.Y.C. And he's already got one person campaigning for him for a certain award: "Keith is my sexiest man alive," says Kidman. "He is the man I love and everything is sexy about him."
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The Washington native shook Nashville with his deep voice, 6'5" frame and hit song "Just Got Started Loving You" – landing him a CMA nomination for new artist of the year. "Seventy percent of my fans are women," says Otto, who toured with country
stars Trace Adkins and Alan Jackson this year. "But where women go, men follow, so I get a chance to win men over, too."
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