After three years of staking out a reputation as the most confusing live awards show on TV, FOX’s American Country Awards did slightly better this year at making it clear to viewers who had actually won awards in many of the categories. But with the exception of four-time winner Blake Shelton, who accepted via a taped piece, categories where the winners weren’t present were glossed over or skipped entirely at the show, which aired live from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. They included three wins for no-show Miranda Lambert, two for Tim McGraw, and one each for Carrie Underwood and the Band Perry.
The show featured a spectacular, eye-popping set, and some superstar performances from Lady Antebellum
and Brad Paisley
. But it won points for also giving performance opportunities to lesser-known acts that don’t get to play on the major awards shows. This year, they included Randy Houser, Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett, among others. Luke Bryan
was a presenter, and won three awards including the top prize of artist of the year, but chose not to perform.
Florida Georgia Line
, on the other hand, not only performed, but emerged as the night’s big winner with six awards. They took to Twitter later to thank their fans, tweeting
, “Wow - you guys keep blowing us away this year and can never thank you enough.”
Trace Adkins co-hosted for the fourth year, and was paired for the first time with NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. Trace does a solid, if unremarkable, job as host, but earns his return invitation every year for his absolute fearlessness when it comes to the show’s comedy elements. In past years, he’s carried co-host Kristin Chenoweth out on stage in a plus-sized Baby Bjorn, among other gags. This year, he donned a fire suit and attempted to cram his 6-foot-6-inch frame into a NASCAR racecar. Even more memorably, he was shown in a taped bit in full Vegas showgirl attire and tiny underpants, embracing the humiliation with gusto as he turned to a mirror and began singing "I Feel Pretty."
The hands-down best performance of the night belonged to LeAnn Rimes, who sang a medley of four Patsy Cline songs, and unexpectedly got emotional at the end. The performance marked the 50th anniversary of Cline’s death, but a tribute to a classic country artist -- however great -- seemed awkwardly out of place given the show’s overall focus on newer, younger stars.
Another memorable performance came when Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker
-- two stars who came to country music after establishing their careers in the pop field -- teamed up to perform "Wagon Wheel" after each sang a portion of their respective current singles, "Callin' Me When I’m Lonely" and "Radio."
The show’s most head-scratching moments came from the choice of presenters, a mix of legitimate country acts and D-level "celebrities" from the worlds of music, sports and television. Teaming up presenters Cowboy Troy and the largely unknown Big Smo was the first such misstep, but it was quickly followed by a pairing of two people most of the audience likely wouldn’t recognize: VH1 personality Carrie Keagan and farmer Dan King of the Great American Country series "Farm Kings." That pairing descended into cringe-worthy territory when Keagan ripped open King’s shirt while describing his show as "Duck Dynasty with beefcake."
Previously announced presenter Matthew Morrison of "Glee" was a no-show, and was replaced with FOX sportscaster Joe Buck.
Like any awards show, the ACAs also revealed some questionable fashion choices (Dwight Yoakam in a turtleneck?), but none more egregious than the show producers' decision to outfit all of its "trophy girls" in ultra short silver mini-skirts, black spaghetti-strap tank tops, cowboy boots and enormous black cowboy hats. They looked like they’d misplaced their hay bales.