The award – Underwood’s 10th CMT trophy – makes the singer the top-winner in the show’s 12-year history. “Thank you so much. You’re amazing. I don’t deserve this,” Underwood said in accepting the honor.
Unsurprisingly, husband-wife country power couple Black Shelton and Miranda Lambert continued their long-running awards show winning streak, with Lambert taking home trophies for Performance of the Year for “Over You,” co-written with Shelton, and Female Video of the Year for her fiery hoedown “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which she also performed during the show. Shelton won Male Video of the Year for “Sure Be Cool if You Did.” “Honey, I’m drinkin’ for two tonight, I love you!” Lambert said to her other half, who was unable to attend the event at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
Lady Antebellum also won big last night, taking home a buckle for Group Video of the Year for Downtown. “This is Hillary’s maternity present come early,” Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley said of bandmate Hillary Scott, who is eight months pregnant, while holding up the award.
Breakout duo Florida Georgia Line joined Lambert as the night’s only multiple award winners, walking away with Duo of the Year and Breakthrough Video of the Year buckles, both for their hit “Cruise,” which actress Kristen Bell, who co-hosted the loose, light-hearted show with country singer Jason Aldean, proclaimed, “the song of the summer.”
“We’re going to turn into Taylor Swift in a minute,” Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard joked on the group’s second trip to the podium. Swift left the arena empty-handed, though she did don a long crimson dress, strap on an electric guitar and power through a charging performance of “Red,” the title track from her multi-platinum 2012.
Aldean, along with frat-house country laureate Luke Bryan and “Springsteen” singer Eric Church, nabbed the Collaborative Video of the Year buckle for their country radio Number One “The Only Way I Know.”
But it was the collaborations onstage that dominated the two-and-a-half-hour show. There were a host of strange-bedfellow pairings, most notably the two performances that bookended the broadcast. Aldean and rocker Lenny Kravitz opened the show, trading verses on a languid cover of the Guess Who’s “American Woman” – which Kravitz remade as a hit in 1999. Later, rapper Nelly, in the midst of mounting a comeback, joined Florida Georgia Line to bust a rhyme over their hit remix of “Cruise,” which closed the show.
While Aldean looked rigid, almost as if he were singing a different song and playing on a different stage from Kravitz, the Florida-Georgia/Nelly pairing actually worked better in reality than it sounds on paper, with the rapper’s partly-sung verse dropping seamlessly into the slow-grooving, sun-drenched pop-country party jam.
Back on the classic rock tip, superstar Keith Urban joined Little Big Town on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” which the Alabama quartet adapted into a smoky country-rock stadium stomper. For the song’s climax, Urban – who earlier treated viewers to a performance of his breezy new single “Little Bit of Everything” – levitated up through the stage floor clouded in rock fog, taking on the role of Lindsey Buckingham and nailing the scorching guitar solo. If fans are lucky, this rendition will be a nightly staple on Urban and LBT’s upcoming summer tour.
Another highlight was Darius Rucker’s rendition of “Wagon Wheel,” the Old Crow Medicine Show song that Bob Dylan co-wrote. The song is currently a hit for the former Hootie and the Blowfish singer. Reprising their role on the record, Lady Antebellum – who also performed their stadium-sized torch ballad “She’s Gone” – backed Rucker on a spirited performance the ended with the house lights up and the entire arena singing along en masse.
Hunter Hayes – who, with his fair-haired, twinkle-eyed pop savvy and hot licks, seems like a glimpse of how Taylor Swift and John Mayer’s offspring might have turned out – also had a fine showing with “I Want Crazy,” his aggressively infectious ode to manic pixie dream girls everywhere.
But the showstopper of the night was Underwood’s rousing performance of her single “See You Again.” The Oklahoma native sang the song as a tribute to her home state, to which she recently made a $1 million donation through the Red Cross in the wake of devastating tornados. Accompanied by a church choir, Underwood obviously felt the emotion as she belted the song with pitch-perfect, rafter-reaching precision.