As she has done for several years now, Carrie Underwood didn’t just host the CMAs Wednesday night, she made the stage her runway with not one or two but 10 outfit changes — from her red carpet ball gown to ensembles inspired by stars including Dolly Parton and Shania Twain. She told PeopleStyle ahead of the show that her intention was to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary with outfits that would pay homage to major stars and take us through the decades, and each outfit was better (and sparklier) than the last.
Underwood, who was styled by Marina Toybina for the event, hit the red carpet in a Michael Cinco dusty rose halter gown, which was encrusted from top to bottom with beads and made her feel “girly, princess-y and pretty,” as she told PeopleStyle exclusively before the show (and sent us a sneak peek!).
Of course, her looks only got glitzier from there. The host took the stage for the opening act wearing a dark silver sequined mini dress, which was made complete with a floor-skimming cape on one sleeve. Underwood teamed the look with a pair of glistening chandeliers and parted her wavy bob to the side.
“I thought, Since it’s the 50th anniversary, why not kinda go back to the beginning?” Underwood said. “The first CMA awards were in 1967 so it kinda caught the tail end of ’60s fashion there. And the ‘6os are all very like Tammy Wynette-inspired, Loretta [Lynn], lots of sequins, things that look a little more vintage.”
As for her ’70s look, a plunging gold beaded fringe gown inspired by Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, Underwood says, “The ’70s were a little more showy, so it’s this gorgeous, very gold and super flashy, low cut and a little more curvy. So it’s very Dolly inspired.”
Her performance outfit, a white menswear-inspired frayed shirt dress by Emmy-winning costume designer and stylist Marina Toybina and tie, paid tribute to the title of her song “Dirty Laundry”.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a true ode to country without a tribute to Reba McEntire, and that’s the one Underwood took most seriously, choosing a dress that directly recalled a famous moment in CMAs history.
Underwood said that her ’90s look “is one of those that’s a direct artist and moment. There’s a scandalous moment in CMA music history where Reba McEntire wore this dress and it was very low cut, and for the time, it was pushing boundaries which is something she always did. The dress was red and it was very low cut.” (See what McEntire herself had to say about that dress!)
Brad Paisley couldn’t resist mentioning the connection, asking Underwood, “Is that dress on backwards?” She replied, “Nope, you can ask Reba.”
Once the star hit the 2000s, there was one female superstar that couldn’t be passed by: Shania Twain! Underwood acknowledged her with a “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”-reminiscent leopard dress by Rani Zakhem.
“How can we not acknowledge Shania? Because she of course had such a huge impact on country music but also fashion. She had her own style and it was just be wrong if I didn’t throw some leopard in there someplace.”
And her outfits weren’t the only thing that changed throughout the night. Underwood’s makeup artist, Melissa Schleicher, tells PeopleStyle that while her look changed slightly throughout the night (they only had time to tweak her eye shadow and lipstick), her performance look was drastically different
“Carrie has hosted the CMA’s for 9 years so we have gotten really good at quick changes,” Schleicher says. “The biggest challenge was her performance look doing the dramatic eyes and hair and then taking it back to normal in 6 minutes.”
For her look, Schleicher gave Underwood a sunny glow with bronzer and applied a smoky eye using Almay Intense i-Color Evening Smoky for hazel eyes and Almay Intense i-Color Everyday Neutrals for blue eyes. She then lined her lid and lower lash line with liquid eyeliner and finished it off with a nude lip.
What was your favorite look of the night? Sound off below.