Garth Brooks took home top honors at the 51st Country Music Association Awards — despite raising some eyebrows earlier in the evening for lip-syncing his performance.
The “Friends in Low Places” singer was dubbed entertainer of the year — for the second consecutive year and for the sixth time overall — Wednesday during country music’s biggest night.
After former entertainer of the year honoree Reba McEntire presented him with the award, Brooks, 55, took the stage.
“Getting this presented to me by the entertainer of a lifetime, I thank you,” he said, nodding at McEntire. “Miranda [Lambert] said it best, Little Big Town said it best — we’re a family. All you guys down here on the front row: We can all agree on one thing. Let’s all raise a toast. … to the band and crew. I was talking to Kelsea [Ballerini] backstage about how we get to do this for a living. … The most important thing other than God…is you [fans]. …I love you guys. We’re a family.”
The Nashville legend concluded his speech by sweetly acknowledging his wife of nearly 12 years — Trisha Yearwood, 55 — saying: “Ms. Yearwood, I am yours forever.”
Backstage, Brooks admitted that the rumors that lit up Twitter during his performance were true — he had in fact lip-synced the song “Ask Me How I Know” shortly before his win.
“We’re in the middle of 12 shows in 10 days. Not 10 shows in 12 days, 12 shows in 10 days,” he explained. “We did a game-time call on whether to sing the track or lip-sync, and decided to lip-sync. The voice just isn’t there anymore, and you want to represent country music as best you can.”
After the show, Brooks took to Twitter to thank fans for their continued support.
“You’ve made me feel like the EOTY all tour long! Thank YOU!!! love, g
#CMAawards,” he wrote.
“So proud of my husband, no words! Entertainer of the Year and the love of my life xoxo,” wrote Yearwood.
The winner told PEOPLE exclusively he plans to share the hardware with his wife and crew.
“I’m taking it back to them. I get to be with the love of my life. They have to live without their families out there. They work their asses off,” he says.
Brooks’s win comes following a particularly busy couple of years for the star. The Garth Brooks Tour with Trish Yearwood — which kicked off in 2014 — will come to an end in Nashville in December following 383 shows.
“After three years, getting to see home, it’s just like a beacon,” he told reporters in the press room after the CMAs.
As for what he’s looking forward to coming off life on the road?
“Sleep. Christmas. Sleep. New Year’s Eve. Sleep,” Brooks quipped. “We’re going to three years — it was supposed to be a year and a half — three years, three months, 400 shows. I just think we’re all going to sleep for a while. We call it being wired and tired. We’re all exhausted, but at the same time you’re having the best time of your life and you don’t want it to end. So you’re naturally like this, you’re an emotional wreck, and feel very lucky that people are not only showing up in the numbers they’re showing up, but it’s the attitude in which they’re showing up that just makes you love them and never want to leave that stage. It’s so sweet.”
Brooks was in good company, having been nominated alongside Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban for the 2017 title.
The 51st CMA Awards were broadcast live on ABC from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Nov. 8.
- With reporting by NANCY KRUH