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CMT Awards 2017: 10 Best and Worst Moments

From a reverent Gregg Allman tribute to an insufferable Big & Rich skit

Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, CMT Awards

Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban's performance of "The Fighter" was a highlight of the CMT Music Awards.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The CMT Music Awards rightfully earn its rep as the country VMAs. There’s a certain air of the unexpected, and the artists are in their comfort zone. See: Luke Bryan spontaneously caressing host Charles Esten’s leg when the Nashville star walked by him in the audience. Best of all, the performances feel particularly inspired, even if a few fell flat. Here are the 10 best and worst moments from this year’s big show.

midland, cmt awards

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Best: Midland Dress to the Nines

In the early days of country awards shows, “dressed-up” meant rhinestones, glitter and glitz – and not just for the women. Men like Porter Wagoner brought out the Nudie Suits, costumed in eccentric, colorful ensembles emblazoned with cacti and horseshoes, shimmering the night away under the stage lights (love ya, Keith Urban, but that black no-sleeve hoodie is fine for the juice bar, but not the CMTs). Leave it to newcomers Midland to dress to the nines, thanks to the amazing needlework of Jenny Lewis and Nikki Lane’s go-to chain-stitch masters Ft. Lonesome. Onstage, the trio conjured up Wagoner and Gram Parsons while performing “Drinkin’ Problem” and doubling down on the twang. Way to make an entrance, boys. M.M.

miranda lambert, CMT Awards

Best: Miranda Lambert Rediscovers Her Sass

The Nashville Predators’ win was the CMTs’ loss when the Stanley Cup finals schedule bumped the awards show from Bridgestone Arena to the Music City Center. But the switch to the smaller convention center didn’t keep Miranda Lambert – always a standout – from delivering an arena-sized romp through her slow-driving The Weight of These Wings banger “Pink Sunglasses.” That said, the on-the-nose (literally) pink sunglasses distributed to the crowd might have been cheesy enough to land this performance in the Worst column – but it was an awkward treat to see  stars like Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker and Katherine Heigl squirm in those specs. A.G.

Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban

Jason Davis/WireImage

Best: Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood Reinvent “The Fighter”

At this point, it feels like Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood have performed “The Fighter” together one million times. Clearly, the duo was a little sick of it too – so they stripped it back and slowed it down, removing the extra guitar shredding and hyper-speed disco beat for a minute and turning the song into a moving ballad. Here, Urban and Underwood’s musical communication is their best yet: face to face, the longing in the lyrics pop, and when things finally speed up again, it’s like the fighting sparks of a real romance. Not easy to pull off when Urban’s movie star wife, Nicole Kidman, is sitting nearby. M.M.

thomas rhett, cmt awards

Jason Davis/WireImage

Worst: Thomas Rhett Is No Robert Palmer

Thomas Rhett pivoted in a decidedly Eighties direction when he released “Craving You,” a slick, poppy new single that features Maren Morris on harmony vocals (though, let’s be real – she should have gotten her own verse). The song eschews country altogether, instead opting for “Style”-era Taylor Swift and Top 40 radio crossover appeal. But releasing a pop song doesn’t make one a pop star. Rhett’s CMTs performance of “Craving You” was low-energy and uninspired, with a stage set-up that recalled Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video but didn’t live up to that clip’s stylish iconography. And Morris’ absence onstage didn’t help much, proving that “Craving You” lives and dies as a duet. B.M.

Lauren Alaina

J. Merritt/FilmMagic

Best: Lauren Alaina Steals the Show

In many ways, Lauren Alaina ran away with the whole damn show. She first won our hearts when accepting the trophy for Breakthrough Video of the Year for “The Road Less Traveled,” the title track of her early 2017 second album. Her visibly ecstatic shock upon hearing her name called only intensified when she took the stage to accept her award from Reba McEntire. “I’m not good at this. I don’t know what to do. Reba McEntire just gave me an award so that’s pretty crazy,” she said through tears. She’d have another triumphant moment with that same song later in the broadcast, performing a fiery, note-perfect rendition of the inspirational anthem. B.M.

Brett Eldredge

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Best: Brett Eldredge’s Obligatory Use of a Marching Band

It wouldn’t be an awards show these days without a marching band – but, fortunately, it was the capable Brett Eldredge who dusted off the ol’ drumline trope. Performing his latest single “Somethin’ I’m Good At,” Eldredge strutted around the stage like a true showman while the team of percussionists played along. Where some artists would render such a performance cliché, Eldredge’s left-of-center charm made for a playful few minutes that, while perhaps not totally fresh, stood out from the homogeneity of many of his peers. The performance further cemented the Illinois native’s status as something of a country anti-bro, an outlier who prefers Sinatra to Solo cups and isn’t afraid to march to the beat of his own drum. B.M.

florida georgia line, chainsmokers, cmt

Mike Coppola/GettyImages

Worst: Florida Georgia Line, Chainsmokers Waste Good Fireworks

Florida Georgia Line and the Chainsmokers. On paper it’s the worst joining of forces since the Suicide Squad reboot. In reality it was even worse. The two duos’ mimed performance of their collab “Last Day Alive” – pre-taped the previous night on the roof deck of FGL’s recently opened downtown Nashville bar (shameless plug much?) – was worse than mandatory sentencing laws for criminal trafficking across the actual Florida-Georgia state line (a federal offense). The snoozy anthem sounds like Backstreet Boys meets a Blink 182 ballad, and the performance – featuring fireworks – was bereft of any real sparks. The refrain of “It’s now or never” never felt less dire. A.G.

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