Talk abounded this year about the Country Music Association running a "boys' club" in terms of their awards program (not a single female artist was given a nomination for Entertainer of The Year). Despite this, the gals of country held their own--providing the most interesting moments in what shaped up to be a somewhat bland evening overall.
The night's biggest star who had everyone's eyes, of course, was the very female Carrie Underwood, who coolly held her own through acceptance speeches honoring "Before He Cheats" and her second Female Vocalist win. Despite the lack of any catty "Wha-a-t?"s backstage (sorry--you know you loved that, didn't you?), a relatively juiceless performance of "So Small," and a professional (again, juiceless) handling of her princess status for the evening, Carrie managed to rule the show.
This was no small feat, as quite a few other ladies present fed some good grist for the mill. Far and away, the female performers of the evening outshone the men. Horizon Award winner Taylor Swift--all 17 years of her--provided a playful rendition of "Our Song." Reba McEntire and LeAnn Rimes delivered a positively chill-inducing duet. Kellie Pickler exploded into tears at the tail end of her performance. And Jennifer Nettles, one-half of Vocal Duo winners (toppling the long-running Brooks & Dunn) Sugarland, positively belted "Stay," all the while unable to keep the bubbles down.
By comparison, the men of the evening fell a bit short. With the exception of Brad Paisley (who was joined on stage by gyrating tour mates Swift and Pickler, as well as a real high-school marching band), Big & Rich (who we all expect to be crazy, anyway), and a hot one from Jason Aldean--the guys performed with mostly bland precision. The Eagles--a much-promoted highlight of the show--ran through "How Long" in a rather workmanlike manner. Kenny, Keith, and George were unsurprisingly flawless. Josh Turner, who had one of the most rockin' numbers of the evening ("Firecracker"), took a businesslike approach to the hit. Even Rascal Flatts' turn on stage with Jamie Foxx failed to be very surprising. Just another day at the office, turning out perfect delivery. Could it be that country music performers overall have gotten too good?
See-saw interest in performances notwithstanding, the show did earn kudos--at least from this writer--for a few interesting wins. Number one--again, at least in this writer's book--was Rascal Flatts' win for Vocal Group. What made this interesting, of course, was the fact that the previously shunned Dixie Chicks finally made their way back into the world of Country nominations, starting with this category. (Please note: I am NOT counting their undeserved sweep at this year's Grammys as "the world of Country nominations." There is no way in hell that "Not Ready To Make Nice" is a better Country song than "What Hurts The Most," and yes, I am still annoyed by that Grammy win in particular.) While it's nice to see the Chicks finally inching their way back into the club--their last album WAS good, don't get me wrong--I was somewhat afraid that we'd see yet another "let's be oh-so-cool and give them the award over Rascal Flatts even though Rascal Flatts has stomped the crud out of them in terms of Country credibility this year" scenario. Yeah, that sort of thing drives me nutty. But hey--no worries--Nashville, good old real Nashville, didn't let me down.
Another interesting win was Sugarland, breaking a very VERY long streak by Brooks & Dunn. Nothing against B&D, but it was great to see Sugarland actually excited by the award. (Hey, if I'd won the same award dozens of times, I'd probably be a bit blase myself.) Sugarland has been a longtime fave of the Yahoo! Music staff and it was a pleasure to see them get the honor.
Ditto Taylor Swift for Horizon Award--another Yahoo! Music fave for a long time and an overall fantastic budding talent--and Paisley for Male Vocalist. After, what--seven?--nominations, it was fun to see Brad finally win the award, and touching also to see him tear up a little when thanking his dad.
Finally, and also registering a bit on the disappointment scale, the evening produced very few fashion disasters. What's an awards show without a healthy dose of "what on earth is SHE wearing" bloopers? But, most came through tastefully. We'll snark just a bit by mentioning that Martina McBride did her perfect figure no favors by wearing an odd, silver-trimmed pantsuit; presenter Sheryl Crow should ease up on the leather; Troy Gentry should ease up on the studs; and a certain member of a very popular Group should probably stay away from funny-colored pants. See y'all next year!