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CMT Music Awards 2014’s 10 Best and Worst Moments

From the hair-raising to the costume-staining, the show’s standout — and most embarrassing — moments

Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan

Luke Bryan performs at the 2014 CMT Music Awards

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Wednesday's CMT Music Awards broadcast was once again a star-studded night of predictable victories and unpredictable performances. Thanks to fans voting online, Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan were the top winners, taking home two belt-buckle trophies apiece. Carrie Underwood claimed the highest honor, Video of the Year, for "See You Again." The Male and Female Video of the Year trophies will go home together to Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert's jam-packed trophy case. Other victories went to Lionel Richie, Cassadee Pope, the Band Perry and Alan Jackson.

The live CMT broadcast was, so far, country music's wildest party of the year, with Dixie Cup-wielding artists thinking way outside the box for performances that ranged from the mind-blowing to the head-scratching. (Compare the CMTs' rep with the genre's other awards shows here!) Here are our picks for best and worst moments from the big event. — By Beville Dunkerley, Adam Gold and Joseph Hudak


Lzzy Hale, Eric Church

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Best Breakout Performer: Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale

When Eric Church launches his Outsiders Tour this fall, he'll be bringing along hard-rock outfit Halestorm on select dates. Which, after seeing the band's riot-grrrl leader Lzzy Hale duet with the current Rolling Stone cover dude on his "That's Damn Rock & Roll," is definitely a damn good fit. Hale was mesmerizing on the tune, one of the heaviest tracks on Church's The Outsiders, trading yelps and howls with the Chief as images of Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan flashed behind them. Playing a white Gibson Explorer (she has her own signature line), Hale broke out guitar-hero poses that would impress even Ace Frehley and left Church smiling wide. In a country show full of cross-genre collabs, this one — also our pick for Best Non-Country Song — stood out for all the right reasons.

ZZ Top with Florida Georgia Line and Jason Derulo

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Worst Cultural Train Wreck: Luke Bryan, Jason Derulo, Florida Georgia Line and ZZ Top

What do ZZ Top, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Jason Derulo have in common? Absolutely nothing… until last night. CMT prides itself on pushing the envelope with genre-defying, odd-couple pairings. But the network might have jumped the shark by opening the show with a live mashup of the three aforementioned artists. ZZ Top kicked off the debacle with an abridged take on their Texas roadhouse classic "La Grange," which was preempted by FGL bros Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard (along with Bryan) trampolining out of the stage with freeze-frame precision (cued to explosions, of course), then launching into their wholly sonically disparate "Cruise" sequel, "This Is How We Roll." That makes about as much sense as Floridian neo R&B auteur Derulo cannonballing to the stage with back-up dancers in tow and hyping the crowd with the Middle Eastern-sax-melody-boasting, country-as-a-sky-scraper trap of his 2 Chainz collab "Talk Dirty" — which is exactly what happened next. Derulo's choreographed dancers were off the hook. Kelley and Hubbard doing the windshield wipers dance while Bryan slithered and thrust his hips, not so much.

Jennifer Nettles, John Legend, Hunter Hayes

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Best Collaboration: Jennifer Nettles, John Legend and Hunter Hayes

Now that is how you bring in a talent from another genre to the CMT Music Awards. Hunter Hayes himself crafted a new, countrified arrangement of the John Legend love song "All of Me" — which, lyrically, really could be a country song — and sent it to the R&B superstar, who promptly wrote back that he loved it and wanted to record the new version as a duet. Kudos to their recruitment of the incomparable Jennifer Nettles for the high harmonies that complemented Legend's in a way that probably had George and Tammy smiling down from above. Their stripped-down, vocally superior performance was a refreshing break from the bells, whistles and backflips (seriously, Brantley Gilbert?) that give the show its often unnecessary shock value.

Lee Ann Womack, Alan Jackson and Kacey Musgraves

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Best Tribute: Kacey Musgraves and Lee Ann Womack Sing Alan Jackson

Does Alan Jackson really have 55 music videos? Apparently so, netting the Nineties country superstar the first-ever CMT Impact Award (essentially CMT’s answer to the VMAs' Video Vanguard Award).  To honor the singer, Kacey Musgraves and Lee Ann Womack dueted on a twangy, saloon-ready version of Jackson's 1994 Number One "Livin' on Love," that was more well-suited for a downtown Nashville honky-tonk than the caverns of Bridgestone Arena. It was the only remotely traditional-leaning, true country performance of the night, and with Musgraves and Womack — the former garbed in black, goth-Opry chic, and the latter in a rhinestone-bedazzled dress — trading lines and strumming away on acoustic guitars, it was a real showstopper. "That song never sounded better, y'all," Jackson told the pair during his acceptance speech.  

Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan

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Worst Buckle Robbery: Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan Beat Out Willie Nelson and Neil Young

You won't meet two nicer guys in music than Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, so it was admittedly heartening to see the country superstar go into full-on bromance mode with the R&B legend, declaring their win for CMT Performance of the Year a bucket-list moment. But let us not forget that, fun as their "Oh No/All Night Long" collaboration at the 2013 CMT Artists of the Year show was, it beat the tear-jerking, once-in-a-lifetime rendition of  “Long May You Run” that Neil Young sang with Willie Nelson. The latter performance transfixed a crowd of 100 gathered in Jack White’s Third Man Records for a Crossroads taping that doubled as the Redheaded Stranger's 80th birthday bash. Chalk this oversight up to fan voting. We know Willie’s usually the one smoking the weed, but anyone who actually watched all of the nominated performances and didn't vote for "Long May You Run" must be high.

Blake Shelton and Cassadee Pope

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Best Reunion: Cassadee Pope and Blake Shelton

Cassadee Pope gets a hall pass for the Taylor Swift-like surprise face she sported upon winning Breakthrough Video of the Year, as her "OMG!" elation was undoubtedly genuine. Blake Shelton was equally thrilled to present his victorious Voice teammate with the trophy, giving her a a bear hug and joking, "This is where you say thanks to people…. I'm still coaching you." Pope's heartfelt speech was one of the best of the evening, telling Coach Shelton she "still needs" him, thanking fans and praising colleagues who "inspire me to do my best and get better every single day." Secondary props go to CMT voters for supporting the only female in the always testosterone-heavy category.

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Best Use of Wind Machines (And Believable Hair Extensions): Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert

Rolling Stone cover star Lambert and her new BFF Underwood debuted their duet "Somethin' Bad," off Lambert's soon-to-be-Number One album Platinum, on the Billboard Music Awards. But the ladies were in the sweet spot on the CMT Awards, turning in a performance that was musically superior to the somewhat underwhelming Billboard appearance — as well as a whole lot windier. With a tornado watch in effect for Nashville outside, the gusts were strong inside the Bridgestone Arena, as country's two alpha females sang into gale-force wind machines — kudos to whoever was responsible for their unflappable hair extensions — and strutted like their lives depended on it. The ladies may be far behind the guys on country radio, but after Lambert and Underwood's show-closing performance, it's easy to see how they often trump the good ol' boys onstage.