Carrie Underwood became only the seventh woman to win Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards Sunday night — and the first since the Dixie Chicks in 2000. Here’s the best and worst of the night as seen from in front of my television.
Best Plug: Matthew McConaughey. I’m not a fan of award shows pimping presenters who have projects to peddle — McConaughey has a movie coming out next month that I’m going to refuse to name here in protest — but at least he gave us a happy ending. Presenting the night’s final award, Entertainer of the Year, he said he had to first throw out a thank you. In 1987, he and his brother took a short road trip to another town in Texas to see a hot new artist named Dwight Yoakam. "While we’re there, we meet a couple of ladies that we’re trying to pick up, right? Conversation comes around to what we do for a livin’, and so on cue, my brother and I said, ‘Well, we have an exclusive contract with George Strait. We custom-make his boots.’ And they were like, ‘Really?’ We’re like, ‘Oh yeah. Say, as I a matter of fact, out in the parking lot, in the trunk of our white Corvette, we have the next year’s new edition white ostrich quill George Strait signed series that he’s gonna wear on tour next year.’ [Cut to Strait, who's laughing] And they got pretty excited about that and said, ‘Well, can we see? Can we see? Can we see?’…And we obliged…Point of the story is, we got lucky that night. Thank you, George." This was McConaughey’s first ACMs, and he said he wants to come back. I can see him being their Jack Nicholson. He was already sitting in the front row wearing sunglasses (he just needs to learn to smile!). He was also referenced in a speech: Accepting her award, a tearful Underwood said, "I don’t know what to say. I got nothin’…I want to see those boots, Matthew. [Audience erupts in laughter] I’m just kidding. Apparently you all agree."
Worst Plug: Billy Ray Cyrus. "Gettin’ back to Tennessee is more than just one of the central themes of the [new Hannah Montana] film. It’s a way of life to me and Miley. It’s part of who we are. It’s also the name of my new single and the title track of my new album that comes out this Tuesday."
Best mystery: Why Tim McGraw pulled out of performing on the show. McGraw’s rep would only tell EW it was due to a "major disagreement" with the show’s producers…
Worst mystery: Who wrote the patter for Jamie Foxx’s introduction of George Strait if he didn’t, and why was it longer than George’s actual performance? Yeah, I timed it. Anyone else get nervous when Foxx asked the Republican-friendly audience to give it up for President Obama? (The only close-up we got was of Sugarland, but everyone seemed to politely applaud.) It turns out Foxx grew up a Strait fan in Texas, and will be performing "You Look So Good in Love" at the tribute concert for George, ACM’s Artist of the Decade, taping tomorrow night in Vegas and airing May 27 on CBS. Who knew?
Best Actress: Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles. I loved seeing her seduce the camera during the sultry-but-not-slutty "What I’d Give." I can’t wait for their EOTY nomination. It’s coming. (Incidentally, I also find her to be country music’s best dancer.)
Worst Actress: Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus (tie). I like the songs they performed — "You’re Not Sorry" and "The Climb," respectively — but Taylor covering her face with her hands at the end felt so forced and Miley headbanging? Please. That was no Miranda Lambert song. Miley, however, gets points for reminding me of that mountain climber in The Price is Right‘s Cliff Hangers game though. Taylor gets points for running in place when she took the stage to accept Album of the Year (that nervous energy I believed) and for letting her producer speak, as well as for singing along to "Last Name" when Carrie Underwood was en route to accept Top Female Vocalist. (But can we get the girl a new dance move that doesn’t involve a head snap/hair toss or sideways hip thrust?)
Best cameo: Little Jimmy Dickens. I was just happy to see him after his January surgery. He was with Brad Paisley, who appeared remotely from Nashville because he’s waitin’ on his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, to deliver their second child. When Paisley won Top Male Vocalist, he joked that she’d already had the baby, Dickens, and it was a Benjamin Buttons thing. Ha. (Honorable mentions: Nicole Kidman. She was almost feeling it when husband Keith Urban performed "Kiss a Girl." Heidi Newfield’s cellist: GOTH GIRL!)
Worst cameo: David Copperfield. Wearing a cowboy hat, he made Taylor Swift appear for her performance.
Best wardrobe malfunction: Top New Artist winner Julianne Hough (that is not a typo) had a situation with her gown when she got onstage to accept her award — it came unzipped in the back. Her surprised squeal when she realized presenter Jack Ingram was fixing it was almost adorable enough to make me not care that we weren’t getting a better look at nominee Jake Owen’s suit.
Worst wardrobe malfunction: The mammoth gown Carrie Underwood performed "I Told You So" in. In her live blog, Whitney Pastorek likened her look to Jabba the Hut. (Though the color was stunning.) I was just so confused by it, the number of times I asked "Why…Just why?", totally distracted me from her performance. Host Reba McEntire, too: "I was going to wear that exact same dress," she cracked afterward.
Best feminist statement: ACM awarded Jennifer Nettles a special Crystal Milestone Award for being the first woman to be the solo songwriter on a Song of the Year (for last year’s winner, "Stay") since 1972, and she said everyone who has a wife, daughter, sister, or mother should be encouraging little girls to live their dreams. (Swift also received a Crystal Milestone Award for being 2008’s best-selling artist and bringing a younger audience back to country music.)
Worst feminist statement: "America’s No. 1 supermodel and Victoria’s Secret Angel" Marisa Miller introduced Toby Keith’s performance: "Toby Keith is very serious about who introduces him. For example, before he asked me to present, he asked to see all the outtakes from my Victoria’s Secret photo shoots. I guess I passed." I didn’t say the joke wasn’t funny.
Best ensemble number: "Til the Last Shot’s Fired". Trace Adkins performed the song with the West Point Glee Club to raise awareness of the Wounded Warrior Project charity.
Worst ensemble number: The opening. I love Brooks & Dunn’s "Play Something Country" and think it was a cute idea to have them playing it to set up a montage of performances by some of the night’s big winners. But, having them all onstage at the end was anti-climactic, for me at least. It didn’t feel like they were actually performing together because you couldn’t hear most of them. So what’s the point? Maybe the sound was better in the room.
There you have it. What were your bests and worsts of the night? Whose album can you no longer put off buying? (Me: Lady Antebellum and Jamey Johnson.) Which joke of host Reba McEntire’s was more awesomely bad: "It seems everyone wants to do a country album now adays. Even Michael Phelps and Willie Nelson are teamin’ up to do an album. They are. They’re coverin’ the Doobie Brothers" or "George has sold over 62 million albums, which puts George Strait in the same class as an artist like Elton John. I bet that’s the first time I’ve ever said ‘straight’ and Elton John in the same sentence"? And what was your favorite acceptance speech? I’m gonna go with Single Record of the Year winner Trace Adkins, who said "You’re Gonna Miss This" was a personal song for him — his oldest daughter was getting married — and one he never expected to be released as a single. When they told him it would be, he responded, "Go ahead, ain’t nobody gonna play it." "Glad I’m an idiot," he said. "Thank you very much."
More country music:
Whitney Pastorek’s backstage ACM live blog
Full list of ACM winners
Tim McGraw pulls out of ACM show
Shooter Jennings: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Jake Owen: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Dierks Bentley: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Blake Shelton: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Billy Currington: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Heidi Newfield: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test