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10 Best and Worst Moments from 2014’s American Country Countdown Awards

From ham-it-up hosts to head-scratching performances, we single out the highs and lows of the live show

Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson

Miranda Lambert (left) and Kelly Clarkson flank Reba McEntire at the American Country Countdown Awards in Nashville.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Behold the American Country Countdown Awards. In all its super-sized glory, country music's latest awards show debuted Monday night. Essentially replacing the now-forgotten American Country Awards, which also aired on Fox, the ACCAs recognized the best artists, songs and albums of the year based primarily on radio play.

Staged at Nashville's Music City Center, the show was decidedly of this year, boasting a Twitter "bar" and revealing winners via smartphone screen. The hosts were also very much of the moment: Florida Georgia Line. "It's probably more nerve-wracking, to be honest, going out at an awards show and trying to read the teleprompter than [it is playing a stadium]," FGL's Brian Kelley told Rolling Stone Country. "Getting out there and trying to read something while it's live, that's probably harder than anything we've done." So how'd he and partner Tyler Hubbard do? Find out in our 10 Best and Worst Moments recap.

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line's Brian Kelley (left) and Tyler Hubbard

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Best: Florida Georgia Line’s “Go for It” Hosting Approach

Any viewers expecting even an ounce of subtlety from hosts Florida Georgia Line shouldn't have — that's not how FGL rolls. Like the lovable bro-countrified human cartoons they are, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley hammed it up hard. Whether sauntering through the crowd in suit-and-tie only to have fawning female fans tear off their threads and reveal the pair in their trademark tank tops, or donning bad Santa suits so ill-fitting they'd put the Grinch to shame, Hubbard and Kelley were gleefully game for anything the producers could think up. The duo — who even introduced Hank Williams Jr. as "Brocephus" — catch boatloads of flak for its aggressively outsized bro-country antics and for taking the genre's most maligned tropes to the top of the charts. But some of their critics kind of miss the point: Florida Georgia Line's artlessness is their art. And, for better or worse, that's what made Hubbard and Kelley pitch-perfect hosts for this rather experimental, entirely goofy and totally 2014 awards show.

American Country Countdown Awards

Reba McEntire and Kix Brooks onstage at the ACC Awards.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Worst: The Arcade Game Set

If the ACCAs opened with an "Insert a Dollar to Begin" title card, we wouldn't have raised a brow. Thanks to a stage and backdrop that resembled a vetoed set from the Tron reboot, the show blinked and flashed like it was the Dave & Buster's Country Countdown. Sure, the awards are a product of country radio — and specifically the long-running American Country Countdown, hosted by Kix Brooks — but all the graphics depicting rotating transmitters and antennae were enough to make Marconi himself want to tune out.

Eric Church

Eric Church performs at the ACC Awards.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best: Eric Church’s Nostalgic “Talladega”

If Eric Church's coming-of-age power ballad about fast cars and old friends didn't make viewers pine for yesteryear, his fashion throwback to the original Star Wars — via a black-and-white jacket that the Chief must've stolen from the Stormtroopers' locker room — definitely sealed the deal. After wrapping up the song, Church took a minute to thank each member of his band by name — a first for the evening — and informed the crowd that in a world of 99-cent digital singles and Spotify streams, albums still matter. Preach!

Cole Swindell, Luke Bryan

Cole Swindell (left) and Luke Bryan perform at the ACC Awards.

Jason Merritt/GettyImages

Best: Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” Ride Out of Bro Country

Though no one knew it at the time, when Luke Bryan shot out of the stage to join Florida Georgia Line and ZZ Top for a little hick-hop adventure at the CMT Awards in June, it may have been the last time we'd ever see the superstar fully embrace his bro-itude. In TV performances since, Bryan's made a seemingly obvious effort to show his softer side, as he did at the ACCAs with an airy performance of "Roller Coaster." Cole Swindell, duetting with Bryan on the song, and Brett Eldredge, who performed later, both seem to be following suit. Onstage, Bryan's gone from affable, frat-house king to affable, business-casual go-getter on a quest to wow the boardroom with a PowerPoint presentation. He points at all the right people in the room on all the right beats, all without his shirt coming untucked. Watching Swindell and Eldredge work the crowd — and the cameras — it was clear they've been taking notes from the master.

Florida Georgia Line, Twitter Bar

Hosts Florida Georgia Line pose at the ACC Awards' "Twitter Bar."

Jonathan Leibson/GettyImages

Worst: The Twitter Bar’s Fusing of Tailgating and Technology

If there are two things that don't go well together, it's drinking and tweeting. Nonetheless, Monday night we were introduced to the "Twitter Bar," where performers such as Lady Antebellum, Jerrod Niemann and Kix Brooks bared their souls and sang tender, stripped-down, writers'-round-style versions of singles new and old for fans listening intently — when not refreshing their Twitter feeds, of course. A Genius Bar idea this was not. And nothing says terrestrial radio (a thing you typically listen to in your car) like drinking and tweeting (two things you ought not do while driving).

Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson

Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson perform at the ACC Awards.

Jason Merritt/GettyImages

Best: Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert and Kelly Clarkson’s Power Trio

It's been 15 years since Emmylou Harris, Linda Rondstadt and Dolly Parton released their final Trio album, and another group of all-star females should consider filling that vacancy. What began as a tribute to Reba McEntire, with legends-in-training Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert trading harmonies on 1984's "How Blue," turned into an all-out class 'n' sass fest once McEntire grabbed a microphone and joined the others on "Fancy." The result? The first (and longest) standing ovation of the evening. 

Kip Moore

Kip Moore performs at the ACC Awards.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Best: Kip Moore’s Classy Clean-Up

The last time Kip Moore played Nashville, he was headlining the Ryman Auditorium in a sleeveless flannel shirt and backwards ball cap. The guy classed it up at the ACCAs, though, donning some formal wear (bowtie unknotted, natch) and accepting his award for Breakthrough Artist with a seated, spot-on performance of "Hey Pretty Girl." Sure, the tune borrows much of its strut and sway from Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," but we'll take the influence of the Boss over the influence of the bros any day. 

Vince Vaughn

Vince Vaughn presents the Groundbreaker Award to Kenny Chesney at the ACC Awards.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best: Vince Vaughn’s Fish-Out-of-Water Cameo

Every time cameras cut to Vince Vaughn in the audience, the actor and honorary bro had a look of total, unmitigated "what am I doing here?" confusion on his face. So why was Vaughn in the house last night? To present an award to Kenny Chesney, of course. And not just any award, but the ACCA's lifetime-achievement-y Groundbreaker award. "Few artists have single-handedly elevated country music to new heights," Vaughn said in a rudimentary speech. "They are the groundbreakers. Tour after tour, album after album, great song after great song, Kenny Chesney continues to thrill country fans and break ground as only he can," he continued, in what felt like a deleted scene from a Nashville-set Wedding Crashers sequel. Was this cameo intentionally funny? Doesn't matter.

Jason Aldean

Jason Aldean performs at the ACC Awards.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best: Jason Aldean’s Pumped-Up “Just Gettin’ Started”

Country's alpha male isn't the most dynamic of performers, but with an ace band and his own sturdy presence, he doesn't have to be. Aldean delivered his latest single, "Just Gettin' Started" — which would have worked better at the beginning of the show rather than in the penultimate slot — with muscle-bound authority. No choreography, no flash; just a simple-man performance that helped prove why the night's Artist of the Year regularly sells out stadiums. Which he'll surely do again when he hits the road with Kenny Chesney this summer.

Hank Williams Jr.

Hank Williams Jr. performs the final song of the night at the ACC Awards in Nashville.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Worst: Hank Williams Jr.’s Old Fart Song Choice

Props to the producers for including a country veteran in the ACCAs lineup. But it was an idea that looked better on paper than in execution. When Bocephus closed the show with a performance of his shopworn "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight," a collective head-scratch seemed to move through the crowd, with many turning to find the ballroom's exit. Williams looked defiant as always and, to his credit, wasn't phoning it in, but the now 30-year-old song may as well have been a cave painting to the show's target audience. After Hank Jr. donned a cap with "Icon" emblazoned in gold, the whole thing took a turn to the self-congratulatory that seemed as out of place as the appearance itself. (That is, unless he's the next legacy act to follow Reba and Ronnie Dunn's lead and sign with the new Nash Icon Music label.)

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