Carrie Underwood brought the Academy of Country Music Awards to church. Maren Morris won the most awards of the night, including song of the year. Miranda Lambert performed three times and held on to her record as the most decorated winner in ACM history. And Mickey Guyton, the first Black woman to host the awards show, gave a powerful, top-notch vocal performance.
Though female country stars didn’t compete for the night’s top prize — Luke Bryan was named entertainer of the year — they owned Sunday’s ACM Awards.
Underwood’s performance stood out the most. She was joined by gospel legend CeCe Winans and the dynamic duo blended their voices like angels onstage.
Lambert performed three times, first alongside rock-pop singer Elle King for a fun, energetic performance of their new duet Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).
Alongside those acts, Alan Jackson, Lady A, Blake Shelton, Ashley McBryde, Brothers Osborne and Guyton took the stage, the last of whom gave an all-star performance of Hold On during the show.
WATCH | Mickey Guyton makes history as first Black woman to host ACM Awards:
Guyton, who hosted with Keith Urban, recently had her first child and became the first Black solo woman nominated for a Grammy in the country category this year.
Canadian producer and writer Karen Kosowski had a special place in that song, as well as Guyton’s performance. Born in Winnipeg, Kosowski worked with Guyton in the creation of Hold On, and was on stage playing piano for the performance.
“She’s amazing to work with, she’s always coming in with ideas and something to say,” Kosowski said of Guyton in an interview with CBC. “And then she, you know, opens her mouth and this amazing voice comes out, and you’re like: ‘Awesome! We can work with this.”
Show adapted for COVID-19
The performances that aired Sunday were pre-taped at various locations in Nashville, including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe. Winners, wearing masks, accepted awards in real time in front of a small audience made up of medical and health care workers.
Bryan was set to perform Sunday but backed out of the show because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I’m so sorry I could not be there,” he said from Los Angeles. “And to all my fans out there and country radio, we miss touring. We’ve missed being on the road with everybody that makes me an entertainer. My bus drivers, my band, my crew, what a challenging year. But to all the fans and everybody, we’ll be back out on the road doing what we love.”
Collaborating onstage was the theme of the awards show: Maren Morris and husband Ryan Hurd sang together, ending with a kiss. A teary-eyed Morris won song of the year for her Grammy-nominated hit The Bones, which topped the country music charts for months last year.
She won two ACMs for song of the year — one for performing the hit and another for co-writing it, sharing the win with songwriters Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins.
Morris lost single of the year, where all of the nominated songs were performed by female artists. Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s platinum duet, I Hope You’re Happy Now, won the prize.
“We wrote this song about my story and I guess it resonated with everybody,” Pearce said onstage, also thanking musician Michael James Ryan — known as busbee — who produced the song and died in late 2019. “This is the last song that my producer worked on.”
But the entire three-hour show didn’t go smoothly. The Grammy-winning duo Dan + Shay performed their latest hit, Glad You Exist, but the pre-taped moment aired out of sync.
Another mishap occurred when Martina McBride announced the winner of single of the year. McBride correctly said I Hope You’re Happy Now won though I Hope by Gabby Barrett appeared on the TV screen.
Pearce and Brice’s I Hope You’re Happy Now also won musical event of the year, while Barrett was named new female artist of the year. Rhett won male artist of the year and Jimmie Allen was named new male artist of the year.
Little Big Town also performed — but as a threesome. The Grammy winners sang Wine, Beer, Whiskey without band member Phillip Sweet since he recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Sweet and Bryan weren’t the only country stars missing from the show. Morgan Wallen, whose latest album and singles have found major success on both the country and pop charts, was declared ineligible by the ACMs after he was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year.