For a woman who says she’s left the stage behind, Shania Twain sure seemed happy in the spotlight at the taping of the CMT Artists of the Year special.
After a powerful tribute featuring Jill Scott, Meghan Trainor and Kelsea Ballerini singing a trio of her biggest hits, including “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” Twain, who last year wrapped what she called her final tour, claimed her Artist of a Lifetime trophy with a wide grin and a shimmy, declaring, “Wow! Kelsea, Jill, Meghan, holy … bleep it!”
Thanking the Nashville crowd for the honor, Twain recalled her early days playing in bars — “and some strip clubs!” — before becoming the best-selling female country artist of all time. The singer took her time at the mic, joking of her extended speech, “I don’t want to get off the stage right now because I’m loving this moment!”
There was a lot of love for Twain amid the night’s performers and fellow nominees. “She’s banging!” R&B star Scott told PEOPLE before the show. “When I saw Shania on the scene with her fantastic outfits and her amazing voice and those incredible lyrics, I was so into it. I’m still into it!”
Twain told PEOPLE that she takes her status as a powerful female performer seriously. “It’s a compliment, and it’s almost a responsibility,” she says. “Not that I have to be this kick-ass woman all the time, but I want to represent myself well and my hope is to impact people in a positive way.”
“Shania just made music bigger,” says Ballerini, who took home honors herself as CMT’s Breakout Artist of the Year, presented to her by Arsenio Hall, her co-host on ABC’s Greatest Hits show this summer. Hall introduced the rising star as “my baby sister.”
The night’s other Artist of the Year honorees included Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton (performing a spare and emotional ‘Whiskey and You”) and Carrie Underwood, who wiped away tears as she took the stage after a video tribute that featured the singer with her 19-month-old son, Isaiah.
“Aren’t we blessed? God is good — he’s definitely been good to me,” Underwood told the crowd. “Oh man, I don’t know why I’m getting teary eyed…I think it was seeing my little guy on the screen.”
The 90-minute 2016 CMT Artist of the Year special airs tonight at 9 ET on CMT.