LAS VEGAS – Everything went to script Sunday night at the Academy of Country Music Awards until the end, when Luke Bryan pulled off an amazing upset and won entertainer of the year.
Bryan immediately overshadowed top winner Miranda Lambert’s big night by beating out some of country music’s top performers, including Lambert and her husband, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean and two-time entertainer of the year Taylor Swift in an upset few would have predicted because of his relatively recent move into the spotlight.
The 36-year-old Georgia native recently began headlining his first arena tour and was the co-host of this year’s show.
“I don’t know what to say, guys,” Bryan said as members of the audience shouted “Luke.” “Thank you so much fans for doing this to me. Thank you so much for making my life what it is. What I always wanted to be was just a country singer who got to ride on a tour bus and show up on a new stage and play music every night.”
After an emotional speech, Bryan’s co-host Shelton held his partner up and joked that he won in his “first and last year as co-host” of the awards.
Bryan is the first male winner of the award since 2007 when Kenny Chesney won the first fan-voted award. Swift and Carrie Underwood have won two apiece since then.
Bryan’s win may have been the talk of Las Vegas on Sunday night but Lambert again walked away as the academy’s trophy magnet.
She won her fourth straight female vocalist award and picked up three trophies for her hit song “Over You” – one for single record of the year and two for song of the year. She was performer of the song and co-wrote the song with Shelton.
“As a songwriter, having your song and your lyrics recognized by your peers is pretty much as good as it gets,” Lambert said. “And I’m so thankful for being in this genre of country music, every single time someone’s nominated, I just cheer, because I love everybody to death. So thank you for accepting me as a song writer, not just as a singer, because that means the world to me.”
Eric Church won two awards, including album of the year, along with Jason Aldean, Little Big Town and Florida Georgia Line.
Church, this year’s top nominee, also won vocal event of the year for his collaboration with Aldean and Bryan for their collaboration on “The Only Way I Know” and performed his somber but powerful song “Like Jesus Does” with only an acoustic guitar and a backup singer.
Aldean, country’s top-selling male act, won male vocalist of the year. Little Big Town had wins for vocal group and video of the year. Florida Georgia Line won for new artist and were previous winners in the new vocal duo/group category. And husband and wife Shawna and Keifer Thompson continued their feel-good story as Thompson Square won its second straight vocal duo of the year award.
The night was full of colorful performances, but the anticipation of Garth Brooks and George Strait performing together overshadowed almost everything else. The two paid tribute to the late Dick Clark, the executive producer of the show since 1979 who passed away a year ago.
Brooks appeared on stage in flannel shirt and black cowboy hat with a Fu Manchu to perform his hit “The Dance” before Strait joined him for “The Cowboy Rides Away.”
Stevie Wonder made his first appearance on a country music awards show, joining Hunter Hayes for a performance by two guys who got their start as precocious teens. Hayes kicked off their set with his song “I Want Crazy,” then was joined by Wonder for his hit “Sir Duke.”