April 20, 2009 12:00 PM

It was appropriate that Taylor Swift won the ACM Album of the Year award for what she says she “wrote basically in my bedroom about boys”: This night was for the girls. And yet the notable winners at the show in Las Vegas April 5—Swift, Julianne Hough and Carrie Underwood, the first female Entertainer of the Year since the Dixie Chicks in 2000—were stunned by their luck. “My legs are jelly and my fingers are numb,” Hough said of her first ACM award. “Kristian Bush of Sugarland gave me a hug and said, ‘Welcome to country music.’ I just started bawling. I’m not an emotional person, but I’m a baby right now.” Moments earlier at the podium, she faced a more pressing drama when a dress malfunction prompted a zip-up from presenter Jack Ingram. “It’s not my first rodeo,” he joked of offering a helping hand.

Underwood, meanwhile, unveiled the night’s wildest wardrobe—a lava-like cascade of fabric (designed by Rafael Cennamo) that was kept top secret until her performance. “It basically stood up by itself,” she says of her gown. “Someone had to crawl under it and put my shoes on!”

With so much girl power on display, only one man was able to share the spotlight: legend George Strait, who was honored as Artist of the Decade. While the stars waxed poetic about his contributions to country music, leave it to a lady to put it all in perspective: “I think George is pretty hot,” said Miranda Lambert with a giggle. “He’s aging very well!”

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