By Chris Talbott / AP
Taylor Swift won her second consecutive entertainer of the year award at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night, just 24 hours after she was saluted by first lady Michelle Obama for her charity work on The Kids’ Choice Awards.
Even by Swift’s lofty standards, it was an outstanding weekend — though tempered with a little melancholy.
After hugging her way to the stage, she took a moment to say hello to Kevin McGuire and his family. McGuire, a high school football player and Swift fan who has cancer, was to have been Swift’s date to the awards, but he was hospitalized and couldn’t make it.
“He’s not here but I promised him I would give him a shout-out,” Swift said of the Somerdale, New Jersey, resident.
The 22-year-old Swift becomes just the second woman to win the award twice after Carrie Underwood. Swift beat out an all-male field that included Kenny Chesney. Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson were the night’s top winners with two awards apiece.
Swift did not perform but was an oft-acknowledged presence. In the monologue co-hosts Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton wondered about that rumored date with New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. She also was a presenter. Swift was given The Big Help Award by Obama in Los Angeles just a day earlier.
“I’m so happy about this,” Swift said after thanking her followers for giving her the fan-voted award. “I want to say to my fellow nominees in this category I respect you so much and I love you.”
Lambert shouted “Seriously?” to her fans as she picked up the trophy for “Four the Record.” It was her third album of the year win, tying her with Alabama and George Strait, and she also picked up her third female vocalist of the year, scoring a family sweep as her husband Blake Shelton won male vocalist.
“I own every record in this category and I’ve been listening and listening, thinking I’m not going to get it,” said Lambert, who got a hug from her grandmother and close friend Lady Antebellum before accepting her award. “Every record is amazing, and I’m so thrilled. I will never take this trophy for granted. My albums are my babies. It’s what makes me wake up in the mornings.”
Lambert’s album win wasn’t the only surprise of the evening. The Eli Young Band’s smash “Crazy Girl” brought the Texas quartet its first win in Las Vegas, for song of the year, and it was something of an upset over superstar acts like Chesney and Lady Antebellum (though the trio did win vocal group of the year). EYB lead singer Mike Eli hoped the group’s win was an inspiration for people who hope to someday do the same thing.
“I have dreamed this moment my whole life and I can speak for the rest of these guys up here that they have, too,” Eli said. “For those of you watching on television, if you’re sitting here and thinking, ‘I’m dreaming about this moment and I want to be here,’ follow your dreams, believe in yourself, and do it.”
It was the second big upset of the awards: Thompson Square took vocal duo of the year over Sugarland in an early award. “American Idol” winner Scotty McCreery won the fan-voted new artist of the year. Toby Keith won video of the year for “Red Solo Cup.”
Aldean told the crowd he trusted his instincts when he was trying to sort out what to do with “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” which became a steamy, soaring duet that shows Aldean is capable of keeping up vocally with Clarkson. It netted the duo single record and vocal event of the year.
“I kind of thought it needed a female vocal on it and Kelly was the first name I threw out,” Aldean told the audience. “And I’m really glad I did, because she came in and made a great song, and just took it to a great place.”
Added Clarkson: “Thank y’all so much for welcoming me from the pop world!”
Underwood kicked off the night with a hard-charging blast of rock ‘n’ roll and a sexy black and magenta mini-dress for hew new single “Good Girl,” a warning shot to those looking for a lot of twang out of the show.
From Underwood’s rockin’ new single to U2 singer Bono’s introduction of Dierks Bentley via video from Ireland to KISS in full makeup awarding Lady Antebellum with yet another trophy, the ACMs showed off the modern flavor of country with all sorts of multi-genre mashups.
LL Cool J and Keith Urban banded together to salute veterans, co-hosts Shelton and Reba McEntire skewered Randy Travis and wondered whether Swift actually went on that rumored date with Tim Tebow, and Toby Keith walked through the crowd as he sang “Red Solo Cup” with the help of Carrot Top.
Actor-comedian-banjo player Steve Martin joined Rascal Flatts on “Banjo” after a brief tribute to country pioneer Earl Scruggs, who died last week.
Martina McBride and Train’s Pat Monahan teamed up to help New Jersey couple Christina Davidson and Frank Tucci get married on stage while they sang McBride’s “Marry Me.” Davidson and Tucci’s ceremony — quick even for notoriously quickie Vegas weddings — went on behind the singers during the performance and fans could hear the bride and groom say “I will” before their first kiss as a married couple, bringing the crowd to its feet.
And in one of the night’s oddest juxtapositions, “Two and a Half Men” star Ashton Kutcher in cowboy hat sang George Strait before awarding Lambert female vocalist of the year. –Associated Press writer Cristina Silva in Las Vegas contributed to this report.