LAS VEGAS -- Her third place finish in the 2003 season of "Nashville Star" now a mere blip in the rearview mirror, Miranda Lambert earned four first-place trophies at the 46th Academy of Country Music on Sunday night in Las Vegas. The Tyler, Texas native was honored as best female vocalist, and her introspective hit single "The House That Built Me," a down-home meditation on enduring values, was named both single and song of the year. The song snagged the video of the year, as well.
The repeated recognitions for Lambert during the three-hour telecast gave the Texas firebrand a strong showing early in the night, and she seemed to be headed toward a sweep. But after watching Lambert take trophies in the album and female vocalist categories for which she had also been nominated, another female powerhouse, Taylor Swift, got the night's top prize, the fan-voted entertainer of the year, the youngest performer ever to win it.
"This is the first time I've ever won this and I'm just losing my mind," she said. "We just got back from touring in Europe and Asia, so thank you for this wonderful welcome-home gift."
The steamrolling Lady Antebellum, the trio that collected key Grammy Award wins in February, also took major ACM awards with top vocal group and album of the year for the multiplatinum "Need You Now" collection. In the latter category, Lady Antebellum trumped efforts by Swift, Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Brand, Dierks Bentley and Jamey Johnson. The Band Perry, a well-scrubbed young and photogenic bluegrass-rooted family trio, was voted in as overall new artist over older, scruffier new solo artist winner Eric Church.
For his part, Brad Paisley seemed genuinely surprised when he won best male vocalist over Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, George Strait and Keith Urban. "I am honestly shocked," he said, "This is way too many of these for me," he said of his fifth trophy in the category. "I don't want to know who got paid what," he quipped, quickly adding "No, it's all very fair."
Awards shows tend to be as much -- or more -- about the performances than the actual awards. The ACM ceremony pushed the envelope more than most; at the 45-minutes mark there had been seven songs without a single award being handed out.
Ever mindful of genre-crossing appeal that will improve ratings and possibly expose noncountry fans to the music, producers paired pop singer Rihanna with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles for a performance of Rihanna's latest single "California King Bed."
And country stars -- and fans -- love it when rock 'n' rollers come calling. It's one reason Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow have been fully embraced in country circles, why Staind frontman Aaron Lewis' new country-slanted album recently shot to No. 1 on the country album chart, and why the crowd at the MGM arena jumped to its feet when Aerosmith's Steven Tyler joined Carrie Underwood for a one-two punch of her heavy rock tune "Undo It" and Aerosmith's classic "Walk This Way."
The show also teamed veteran singer-songwriter James Taylor with the Zac Brown Band for a performance segment, and lined up Ryan Seacrest, actress Reese Witherspoon and "Twilight" actor Robert Pattinson to be among the award presenters.
Entertainer of the year nominee Jason Aldean even worked a couple of country rap interludes into his "Dirt Road Anthem," a genre-blending lyrical experiment that's been attempted sporadically in country with moderate success by acts including Toby Keith and Big & Rich.
One of the evening's ironies was that Swift, whose expansive pop-country sound has helped her become an international pop star, came through with one of the most staunchly traditional country segments even as many of the others leaned on songs with big, driving beats and other characteristics more rock than country.
Swift offered her new single "Mean," the sharp-tongued retort to some of her detractors. She played the most traditionally country song off "Speak Now" on a faux backwoods front porch with accompaniment from an old-style string band with fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and a six-string banjo she strummed with glee.
Among the awards handed out before Sunday's telecast, Reba McEntire was honored for career achievement and Swift collected the Jim Reeves International Award, which recognizes country performers who spread the music worldwide.
The Tex Ritter Award that goes to movies that emphasize country music went to the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring "Country Strong." Garth Brooks took another ACM Award, even though he released no new recordings during the eligibility period, as one of two recipients of the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award, which also was given to Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers.
The ACM's Poet's Award for exceptional songwriting was given to Tom T. Hall, and to Hank Cochran, who died last summer.
Also in keeping with ACM Awards tradition, with so many country musicians gathered in the same place, on Monday many of the evening's participants were scheduled to stay in town for the taping of a special saluting the Judds and country queen Loretta Lynn. The "Girls Night Out: Superstar Women of Country" is slated to air April 22, also on CBS.
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