Four years after losing his very first CMA Awards nomination to Zac Brown Band — New Artist of the Year — Luke Bryan took home the biggest honor at tonight's 48th Annual CMA Awards: Entertainer of the Year.
Competition in the category was stiff, with Bryan facing off against the reigning Male and Female Vocalists of the Year — country music power couple Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, both of whom won their own awards earlier in the evening — as well as previous Entertainers of the Year Keith Urban and George Strait. During his acceptance speech, Bryan thanked all of his contenders, calling them his "heroes down here on the front row."
Bryan, who performed his most recent Number One hit, "Roller Coaster," earlier in the night, also gave a shout-out to the award's presenter, four-time Entertainer of the Year Garth Brooks.
"First of all, I've never met Garth," Bryan explained immediately after reaching the podium. "Hey Garth! Can I hug you again?" Then he got serious, mentioning a pair of "angels in heaven" — his late brother and sister, both of whom passed away during the early years of Bryan's career — and thanking those still with him, too, from manager Kerri Edwards to wife Caroline Boyer.
Following his big win, Bryan addressed media in the backstage press room. "To try to understand that you would win your first CMA award and it's Entertainer of the Year...I have longed and sought after many years to get one of these in my hands," the Georgia native said, still in awe. "I am really humbled. I think about the hard work that's gone to get here. I will never take a second of it for granted. From the bottom of my heart I go out on stage every night to try and sing it and perform it every night like it's my last."
The CMA Awards show wraps up a busy year for Bryan, whose super-succesful That's My Kind of Night Tour continues in February 2015.