The 50th annual CMA Awards were made for TV, which means you had the best seat to watch three-plus hours of unforgettable performances. But there still was a lot of show TV viewers didn’t get to see that occurred off-camera, backstage, and amid the star-studded audience. Here are some of the fun scenes that escaped the TV cameras.
Commercial breaks turned into massive (and very brief) celebrity cocktail parties.
Well, without the actual cocktails (if you don’t count the flask that Cam’s husband, Adam Weaver, was swigging from). The stars just couldn’t seem to sit still when the room darkened and the cameras cut off, and many stood to mingle, hug, and chat. Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill, two halves of country’s most famous couples, were spotted in a lively conversation. Jennifer Garner and Kimberly Williams-Paisley were tight as ticks while Williams-Paisley’s “Ticks”-singing husband, Brad, was hosting the show. And Kenny Chesney, Chris Stapleton, and Eric Church could be seen having an intense meeting of the minds.
If it’s an awards show, it must be selfie time!
Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket for a photo with Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, and Laurie Hernandez. All five gymnasts, in turn, sought out their own selfie with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. And Little Big Town must have had “You’re the One That I Want” on their minds when they crowded around Olivia Newton-John and coaxed her into a pic.
The Brothers Osborne were even more emotional off-camera.
John and T.J. Osborne, the surprise Vocal Duo of the Year winners, expressed their shock and gratitude during a poignant acceptance speech, but once the cameras moved on, their emotions truly spilled over. They embraced for so long that a presenter had to nudge them off the stage, and as they walked off, John was wiping tears from his eyes as the two slung their arms around each other’s shoulders. Still in disbelief backstage, John was overheard saying, “I still feel like this is the most elaborate, most expensive hoax.”
Matthew McConaughey loves country – and country loves Matthew McConaughey.
The Oscar winner’s appearance drew among the loudest cheers of the evening, and after his turn on stage introducing a Tim McGraw performance, the actor found his place on the front row, where he spent commercial breaks greeting and mingling with other stars. He had spirited exchanges with both Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney, accepted a lengthy hug from Lorrie Morgan, and he was among the first to rush over to congratulate Little Big Town on their CMA Award.
The biggest special effect was really a bit of a bust.
Everyone in the audience had a remote-controlled wrist light waiting for them on their seats, and the show’s off-stage announcer told the crowd to put on the wristbands for several performances during the show. But probably half the audience simply ignored the command or kept their hands in their laps, turning what should have been a veritable galaxy of lights into a scattering of little glimmers.
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The standing-room- only section was actually the best “seat” in the house.
The awards show tried something new this year and planted 150 or so country fans on the lip of the stage for the entire show – a better view than even Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, and all the other A-listers on the front row. During his performance of “May We All” with Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw slapped hands with many lucky members of this pit crew, and after the show’s end, Brooks even handed off his Entertainer of the Year Award to allow several outstretched hands to hold it for a few precious moments.
Beyonce owned the biggest stage in country music. (Whoever thought we’d write those words?)
Last year was Chris Stapleton’s coming-out party when he brought down the house with his electrifying duet with Justin Timberlake. But this year, Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons” romp with the Dixie Chicks drew everyone – from the front row to the upper rafters – from their seats. In fact, the only other time the entire 16,000+ crowd was on its feet was when Lee Greenwood, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood sang the lyric, “And I gladly stand up,” in “God Bless the U.S.A.” (And how could you not stand up for that?)
The most unexpected odd couple was backstage.
Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks may have been the evening’s most novel pairing onstage, but they were nothing compared to the two men who made fast friends backstage: Thomas Rhett and Beyoncé’s husband, Jay Z. Afterward, Rhett was giddy with delight. “I mean, I just hung out with Jay Z for 10 minutes,” he said. “… That was the weirdest thing ever, but awesome.” It turns out, Rhett later revealed, this wasn’t his first meet-up with the hip-hop royal. About a month ago, Rhett made an appearance at Jay Z’s Made in America Festival in Philadelphia, and Rhett and his wife, Lauren, finessed entree into Beyoncé’s birthday party.
Some of the winners did the big no-no for an awards show.
If you noticed some of the night’s early winners were taking their sweet time to get on stage after their names were announced, the show’s producers did, too. Midway through the evening, the off-stage announcer offered a warning: ““Ladies and gentlemen, if you win an award, please come up to the stage as soon as possible … as soon as possible.” No matter, the show still ran long.
Country folk do more than just respect their elders.
Country legends like Charley Pride, Alabama, Charlie Daniels, Roy Clark, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam, and Clint Black may not have had a hit in years, but that didn’t keep the mostly industry crowd from showing not just respect but undying affection for yesterday’s stars.
During the medley opener – which also includes McEntire, Alan Jackson, and hosts Paisley and Underwood among others – those seated on the arena floor rose en masse at Pride’s first notes of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” They stayed standing to the end of the lengthy medley when sentimental favorite Randy Travis, whose voice has been mostly stilled by a massive stroke, appeared on stage to be serenaded with his hit “Forever and Ever, Amen” by the other performers, and the crowd joined in. Travis bravely took on the final “amen” to sing, which he did with aplomb, but he could hardly be heard in the arena over the audience’s cheers.
Country folk love their music – and the Chicago Cubs.
ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, one of the night’s awards presenters, earned among the loudest cheers when he announced, “Cubbies are up 4-1, top of five,” from the stage. Later, avid sports fan Vince Gill offered an update, “Cubs are up 6-3,” during his time on stage – and that earned even louder cheers. It wasn’t just lip service. As the audience poured out of the arena after the show, they discovered several TV monitors in the lobby were airing the World Series, and hundreds of fans stopped in their tracks to watch the game, loudly cheering on every Cubs gain as the team won in the 10th inning.
- With additional reporting by EILEEN FINAN and MEGAN KUHARICH