The Best Moments from the 2021 CMA Awards

From tearful acceptance speeches to powerful performances, we've rounded up the can't-miss moments from the 2021 CMA Awards

01 of 11

Miranda Lambert Opens Up the Show and Brings the House Down

miranda lambert
Terry Wyatt/Getty

Lambert performed a medley of hits, including "Kerosene," "Mama's Broken Heart," "Bluebird," "Little Red Wagon," and "Gunpowder & Lead" to open up country music's biggest night. The singer — who was also celebrating her birthday — told USA Today on the red carpet ahead of her big opener, "I'll just say there's a lot of spice in it."

02 of 11

And Luke Bryan Opens with a Joke About Aaron Rodgers' Vaccine Drama

-- Katy Perry and Lionel Richie pop up as Idol co judge Luke Bryan hosts

Luke Bryan was tasked with hosting this year's CMA Awards — the first solo host in 18 years, though he got some help at the start from fellow American Idol judges, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry! — and boy, did he come prepared with jokes for his opening monologue.

One of them was aimed at Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who recently admitted he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 after previously saying that he had been "immunized" against the virus.

"It is so great to be here with all my fellow artists, tested and together... or immunized?" he joked. "Just playin'."

03 of 11

Jimmie Allen Gets Emotional Accepting Best New Artist of the Year

Jimmy Allen
Jimmie Allen. ABC

Allen delivered a tearful and personal speech after winning best new artist of the rear at the CMA Awards, beginning his speech by thanking his father who died in 2019 for "introducing him to country music."

The singer went on to say, "Five years ago I spent my last $100 and came to the CMAs 50th to watch Charley Pride perform on stage, and I got to perform with him last year. Everyone who voted for me, thank you. My wife, I love you. My kids, my mother's here. My manager Ash Bowers," he said.

He continued, "Ash found me playing at a writer's round at Puckett's grocery store in Franklin and signed me after 10 years of being here, living in my car, living in a trailer, working every job, this is amazing."

He ended his speech with, "Thank you country music. This is for my hometown in Delaware."

04 of 11

TJ Osborne Shares a Smooch With His Boyfriend

TJ osborne
TJ Osborne. ABC

After it was announced that Brothers Osborne won vocal duo of the year, TJ Osborne celebrated by giving his boyfriend Abi Ventura a kiss before accepting the award.

The moment was a milestone one for TJ, who publicly came out as gay in February.

"It's been a crazy roller coaster of a year for us in so many ways, especially for me emotionally," TJ said as he accepted his prize. "And to have you all support me, it really does feel like love wins tonight. Thank you."

He later said on stage, "For many years I would watch this show, year after year and I always though how incredible it would be — I would dream of being up here on this stage. There were so many things that were so many hurdles for me, and I always felt, truthfully felt, like it would never be possible, because of my sexuality, to be here."

"I just wish my younger me could see me now," TJ said before performing "Younger Me."

05 of 11

Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards Sing 'Love My Hair'

Mickey Guyton

After being introduced by Faith Fennidy, a Black student who was sent home from school after wearing her hair in braids, the trio performed Guyton's song, "Love My Hair" (which was inspired by Fennidy's story).

At the end of their song, Fennidy joined them on stage for a hug and they were all met with a standing ovation.

06 of 11

Deana Carter and Lainey Wilson Get the Crowd Singing Along

Deana Carter & Lainey Wilson

Nothing like a little "Strawberry Wine" to get an entire crowd of famous country singers (and a whole arena of fans) to sing along!

07 of 11

Jennifer Hudson Pays Tribute to Aretha Franklin

Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson and Chris Stapleton. ABC

Jennifer Hudson graced the CMA Awards stage with her presence and, accompanied by Chris Stapleton, performed Aretha Franklin's "Night Life" and a soulful rendition of "You Are My Sunshine."

08 of 11

Carly Pearce Couldn't Keep It Together

carly pearce CMAs
Carly Pearce. ABC

After winning female vocalist of the year, Carly Pearce couldn't help but cry as she accepted her award. The singer said through tears, "I've had just like a crazy year and I just want you guys to know that this means everything to me. Country music saved me at a time that I needed it and I just want you guys to know that this is all I've ever wanted in the entire world and I just hope you know that country music is all I love, so thank you so much."

It was all particularly sweet, considering that earlier in the day she had tweeted, "5 years ago today, 'every little thing' was released. Today, I'm up for Female Vocalist of the Year & Album of the Year. Follow your dreams, y'all. #CMAawards."

09 of 11

Chris Stapleton Wins Big

Chris Stapleton

Stapleton won big at the awards, taking home six prizes in all including most of the major categories: single of the year, album of the year, song of the year, and male vocalist of the year.

10 of 11

Luke Combs Takes Home Entertainer of the Year

Luke Combs

The 31-year-old singer accepted the biggest award of the evening, looking totally shocked and admitting he was at a loss for words. "I have never written a speech for something like this," he joked, "which is not serving me well right now."

He also gushed over country legend Alan Jackson presenting him with the award, "Alan Jackson just said my name twice," he said in disbelief.

He concluded his speech by saying, "I don't deserve to win it, but I'm sure as hell glad that I did."

11 of 11

A Big Win for a PEOPLE Person

Sarah Michaud

Our personal favorite win of the evening (and sure, we may be a little biased) was when PEOPLE Senior Editor Sarah Michaud took home a prize of her own: The CMA Media Achievement Award! She was presented her award ahead of the show by the Brothers Osborne.

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