Sure, there was a show on stage at the CMT Awards, but if you were at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday night, there was another show going on, inside. Here are some of the sights that TV viewers missed:
A real buttinsky: Luke Bryan made a grand entrance into the celebrity section, shimmying his famous booty before sitting down in the front row. Neighbor Sam Hunt took quick notice and couldn’t resist patting the rump – obviously ignoring Bryan’s no-butt-grabbing rule.
On the other hand: Blake Shelton made a beeline to Bryan’s wife, Caroline, to greet her, and she rose from her seat to receive a hug from the “I’ll Name the Dogs” singer. Still seated, Bryan took one look at where his pal was placing his hand on his wife’s lower back, and judiciously picked it up and moved it a few inches higher. (All in good fun, no doubt.)
A duet understudy? At least a few in the audience may have wondered if Miranda Lambert might make a surprise appearance for Jason Aldean’s “Drowns the Whiskey,” which appears as a Lambert duet on his new album. But no, Aldean took it solo. Still, if he ever needs a duet partner, maybe he should look no farther than his wife, Brittany, who sang along to every word from her seat. (A one-time aspiring singer, she earned a golden ticket on season 11 of American Idol.)
Cutest couple (second runner-up): Darius Rucker’s date for the evening was his handsome 13-year-old son, Jack, who came dressed in a Biggie Smalls T-shirt. Incredibly, he even managed to play it cool when Dad donned a queenly green hat and jacket for an on-air comedy bit. (Name another teenager who wouldn’t be totally embarrassed by that.)
Cutest couple (first runner-up): Dierks Bentley brought along 7-year-old Jordan, the second of his three children, and the two could be seen chatting and holding hands on their daddy-daughter night. As star after star took the stage, Jordan seemed most taken by what she’d brought with her: a small sequined purse that contained at least one tube of lip gloss, which she daintily applied mid-show.
She saved her biggest excitement, though, for Dad; when Bentley came on stage, she leapt to her feet, clapping and whooping, and even mouthed the words to the chorus of his duet with Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man.” Later, backstage, she delighted in close encounters with Instagram sensation Doug the Pug and Lauren Alaina, who bent down and gave her a hug.
Cutest couple (undisputed champions): That would be newlyweds Kelsea Ballerini and Morgan Evans, who started their “date night” throwing back Jose Cuervo shots in the PEOPLE photo booth before the show. “This will help me with the carpet,” the “Legends” singer quipped before telling her husband she loved him. Evans was stag in the stands until after Ballerini’s sang “I Hate Love Songs” (he beamed through the whole performance).
Once she joined him, they shared a drink from a Solo cup; they took a selfie as he kissed her temple; they sang along with Dan + Shay on “Tequila” and Russell Dickerson on “Yours” (complete with synchronized hand motions); they chatted and giggled. Could they possibly be more adorable?
Cell phone nation: Lindsay Ell and Cassadee Pope took a selfie together. Luke Combs and his girlfriend, Nicole Hocking, selfied, too. John Osborne couldn’t resist shooting Little Big Town singing “Summer Fever.” John Rich’s phone was glowing during Kelsea Ballerini’s performance. After Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina won collaborative video of the year, the first thing both did when they returned to their seats was take out their phones. Yep, the stars have their own electronic addiction, just like the rest of us.
Huge hugs: In his acceptance address for video of the year, Blake Shelton noted that he was “excited to embrace” the new generation of artists. He could have meant that literally since he spent a major part of his evening greeting and hugging several younger artists, including Morgan Evans (a label-mate) and Kelsea Ballerini, Brett Young and Devin Dawson (another label-mate). When Shelton was seated, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney (Dan + Shay) got even chummier, perching on each of Shelton’s long legs; Smyers even bestowed a kiss on Shelton’s cheek.
Pre-performance rituals: Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard revved up every member of his band with a ceremonial fist-bump before the duo performed “Simple,” and the Backstreet Boys could be seen on the darkened stage still rehearsing some of their crisp choreography before they launched into “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
In case you’re wondering: Shelton’s “date” for the evening was Warner Music head honcho John Esposito. And okay, this was on the televised show, but you may have missed noticing that after Shay Mooney kissed Shelton on the top of his head for winning video of the year, he wiped off his mouth. Oh my. What hair product was Shelton wearing?
Be sure to check out PEOPLE’s full CMT Awards coverage to get the latest news on country’s big night.
The best seat in the house: That would definitely be yours for the first few bars of Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty.” As TV viewers watched the singer wend her way through a maze of reflective beads, all the live audience could see was a giant 3D curtain of the long beaded strands. Underwood finally popped out around the first chorus.
Hair today: Kelsea Ballerini and Carrie Underwood couldn’t help but notice that both were sporting new hairstyles – Ballerini’s chopped-off locks and Underwood’s luxurious extensions. The two obviously were comparing styles as they faced each other in conversation, Underwood clutching Ballerini’s short ’do and Ballerini reciprocated by touching Underwood’s mane event.
The 2018 CMT Music Awards were broadcast live from Nashville on Wednesday, June 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.