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2018 ACM Awards: 15 Best, Worst and WTF Moments

From Reba McEntire’s sharp return as host to Carrie Underwood’s show-stopping performance

To use some Las Vegas lingo, the 53rd ACM Awards were pretty much a push, as any major wins the show pulled off were tempered with missteps and head-scratching moments. 

Women delivered some of the night’s best performances, but were shut out of the Entertainer of the Year race. Brothers Osborne and Old Dominion both cemented their status, but neither received a performance slot. And the shadow over the room – how to acknowledge the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting – never seemed to be fully dispelled. Here are the 15 best, worst and WTF moments of the 2018 ACMs. 

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Best: Little Big Town Take “Rocket Man” Into Orbit

At first, Bernie Taupin wasn’t into the idea of Little Big Town taking on the (in his opinion) over-covered “Rocket Man” on the new country covers album Restoration: The Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. But he changed his tune when he heard the arresting harmonies on the group’s sparse, spacey reimagining of the 1972 classic. Of course, the quartet, backlit by a galaxy of stars and laser lights, nailed those harmonies Sunday night, because that’s what LBT does. Every time. And with their inscrutable, idiosyncratic vocal blend, the group never fails at the task of taking an iconic song and making it their own. Did the Russians hack the votes for Vocal Group of the Year? It’s hard to explain how else these nominees went home empty-handed. A.G.

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Worst: Entertainer of the Year Field Is a Sausage Party

For a show that had more than a few standout performances from women, the ACM’s Entertainer of the Year category was noticeably male. With nary a female artist in sight, the category even prompted one of just a few politically tinged remarks from host Reba McEntire, who quipped, “Five men, no women? Looks like singles night at the Holiday Inn.” Deserving veterans and newcomers alike, including Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris and McEntire herself, each delivered show-stopping performances, making the imbalance that much more conspicuous. The real kicker, though, came later in the show, when it was announced that Miranda Lambert officially surpassed Brooks & Dunn’s record to become the most decorated artist in ACM history – if that isn’t the resumé of an Entertainer of the Year, we don’t know what is. B.M.

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Best: Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott Steps Out

Making her first major TV appearance since delivering twins, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott provided a deliciously dramatic return to the ACM Awards with a performance of “Heart Break.” Scott kicked it off singing solo into a backstage mirror before pulling off a quick costume change and stepping onstage with her two male bandmates, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, walking up behind her. It was a moment worthy of show host Reba McEntire’s highly theatrical concert spectacles from the Nineties, which Scott watched as both of her parents played in McEntire’s band during that period. This Lady A performance was a big step out into the spotlight for Scott, who is often left out of the conversation when it comes to discussions on the current women of country. We’re thinking this performance will go a long way in helping correct that oversight. H.K.

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Best: Lauren Alaina Takes a Victory Lap

Lauren Alaina was onstage twice Sunday night, and she didn’t waste a moment of the opportunity – even though neither, on paper, was geared to be a starring performance. First up came her duet of “What Ifs” with Kane Brown, which could’ve flat-lined thanks to backing-track accompaniment instead of a live band. But Alaina, despite not being the featured artist on the song, took it by the scruff of the neck and used Brown as the anchor for her soaring vocal. Even Brown fought back a proud smile as he watched his old middle-school friend sing circles around the stage. Her return later for a solo rendition of her own “Doin’ Fine” was equally powerful, although all too short as she only sang a verse and chorus. But what could have been a footnote instead felt like a victory lap for the New Female Vocalist champ. J.G.

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