CMA Awards 2017: 10 Best, Worst and Most WTF Moments - Rolling Stone
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CMA Awards 2017: 10 Best, Worst and Most WTF Moments

From an inspired opening to a lackluster duet from Kelsea Ballerini and Reba –  the good, the bad and the head-scratching of the 51st CMAs

CMA Awards, Best Worst

The 10 best, worst and WTF moments of the 2017 CMA Awards, hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

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The 51st CMA Awards aimed for the right balance of festive and respectful when the annual country music show was held Wednesday night in Nashville. It was a particularly trying year for the genre and its community, which lost both fans and artists in different tragedies. For the most part, the CMAs succeeded, thanks to dazzling performances by Brothers Osborne, Eric Church, Rascal Flatts with Dierks Bentley, and Darius Rucker, who led a show-opening singalong of Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand.” Still, the evening wasn’t without its stumbles. Here’s the 10 best, worst and WTF moments of the 2017 CMAs.

Amanda Shires, Kelly Garcia

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Best: Amanda Shires makes a sartorial statement

The CMA Awards is an undeniable glitter parade: sequins galore, sparkles for miles and more rhinestones than cowboys. But some of the night’s best fashion moments came in simple cotton. Namely, a tank top worn by Amanda Shires, in attendance to represent husband and bandmate Jason Isbell, said more than any couture gown ever could – simple and pink, it read “Mama wants to change that Nashville sound,” a lyric from Isbell’s “White Man’s World.” In a business that lets as few unique points of view and left-of-center musical perspectives into the inner circle as it does women, Shires chose to use her CMA moment to make a statement. And though far less political, points to the boys of Midland who came in gorgeous chain-stitched Nudie-like suits, shrugging off the “authenticity” naysayers and going full-court Gram Parsons. Like it or not, that’s who they are – flashy, flamboyant and full of kitschy throwback gold. M.M.

Maren Morris, Niall Horan

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WTF: Maren Morris plays backup singer

The CMA Awards have often arranged some ace crossover performances, from Chris Stapleton’s star-making duet with Justin Timberlake in 2015 to Beyoncé’s show-stopping medley with the Dixie Chicks in 2016. However, this year’s mash-up from Maren Morris and Niall Horan doesn’t measure up. The performance opened with the pair singing Morris’ “I Could Use a Love Song,” offering smoldering harmonies that hinted at good things to come when the pair embarks on Horan’s Flicker World Tour in 2018. But the standout from Morris’ Hero debut only earned one verse, as the pair quickly pivoted to “Seeing Blind,” a recently released cut from Horan’s album Flicker that features guest vocals from Morris. The two gave a capable performance, but it was too focused on the former One Direction star and not enough on Morris – you know, the actual country singer onstage. B.M.

Eric Church

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Best: Eric Church makes “Chattanooga Lucy” a gospel stomp

Let’s say this first and foremost: 2017 was Church’s time to win Entertainer of the Year. After a massive, record-breaking tour designed for the fans and the fans alone, he deserved the honor (love you Garth, but sorry). But when you expect him to go one way, he swerves to the other, which is probably what took him out of easy contention – and what set the path for his stellar performance of “Chattanooga Lucy” from 2015’s Mr. Misunderstood. Church always favors the real over the perfect, and this performance, full of gospel fury and dynamite backing vocals from the McCrary Sisters and bandmember Joanna Cotten, was pure Southern rock soul. And while Keith Urban can sing about the “Female,” Church paid his own tribute to the fairer sex by simply sharing the stage with more women than anyone else – something he does regularly not to send a message, but to level the playing field with action, not words. M.M.

reba, kelsea ballerini

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Worst: Reba and Kelsea Ballerini miss the mark

Midway through her performance of “Legends,” Kelsea Ballerini paused, smiled and welcomed Reba McEntire onstage to tackle the song’s second verse. From there, the two singers swapped harmonies throughout the rest of the tune, struggling for a chemistry that never managed to solidify. The duet must’ve made sense on paper — a real-life legend teaming up with a twentysomething legend-in-the-making, offering both a vote of confidence and a symbolic passing of the country-pop torch — but the execution was awkward, with flat notes and vocal acrobatics that missed their mark. While far from a legendary fail, the collab felt like a missed opportunity for two of country’s leading ladies. R.C.

Brothers Osborne

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Best: Brothers Osborne salute Don Williams

Along with delivering one of the most heartfelt and energetic acceptance speeches of the night for their Vocal Duo win, Brothers Osborne turned in one of the all-out best performances of the CMAs. Kicking off with the Pawn Shop Van Halen rocker “It Ain’t My Fault,” siblings TJ and John earned a lot of love from the rowdy audience, with many fans on their feet as the stomping drumbeat resonated throughout the arena. But near the end of the song, the Bros threw a curveball, transitioning into a tribute to the late Don Williams with a cover of his beloved 1978 hit “Tulsa Time.” It’s not the first time the Osbornes have tackled the Williams gem, but, on a national stage, it perfectly illustrated the guys’ country cred. B.M.

Florida Georgia Line

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WTF: Where were Florida Georgia Line?

Noticeably absent from the night’s roll call were Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. The FGL boys lost out in the Vocal Duo of the Year race to Brothers Osborne for the second year in a row, and – more notably – didn’t appear to be in attendance. Perhaps they assumed they were out of the running, despite having a particularly successful and high-profile year. Since the last CMA Awards, FGL scored a pair of Platinum Number Ones in the Tim McGraw collab “May We All” and the Backstreet Boys mash-up “God, Your Mama, and Me,” headlined their first round of stadiums (with Nelly and BSB) and even appeared on tracks by the Chainsmokers, Bebe Rexha and Hailee Steinfeld. We have to admit: we missed the bros, whose personal flair and latest single “Smooth” would have injected some laid-back fun into a night of heavy hearts. C.P.

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