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CMA Awards 2018: Complete list of winners, best and worst moments

Keith Urban tearfully accepts the award for entertainer of the year at the 52nd annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

At the end of the Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday night, presenter Lionel Richie paused dramatically before he announced entertainer of the year, the show’s biggest prize. In the audience, someone yelled “Chris Stapleton!” Everyone laughed, because Stapleton is an industry favorite, and would probably win.

But then Richie opened the envelope and read the name: “Keith Urban!”

No one looked more stunned than Urban, who is approaching the fourth decade of his career, and last won entertainer of the year in 2005. Urban immediately became emotional and wiped his eyes as he approached the microphone in disbelief.

Why it's a big deal that Kacey Musgraves won album of the year at the CMA Awards

“Thank you so much . . . I am shocked beyond shocked,” he told the cheering crowd. He gave a shout-out to his wife, Nicole Kidman (“Baby girl, I love you so much”), and their two daughters, and wrapped up by thanking his fans: “I just feel very, very blessed, very grateful that I get to do what I do. . . God bless country music.”

Stapleton, of course, didn’t seem to mind the loss. He walked away with three awards, the most of anyone: male vocalist and song and single of the year for the powerful “Broken Halos.” Urban was also up against Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney, who was originally scheduled to perform but missed the show because of a death in his family.

Elsewhere, Carrie Underwood won female vocalist. Brothers Osborne were named vocal duo of the year for the third time in a row and provided the night’s only political quip. (“If this was in Florida, there would definitely be a recount.”) Old Dominion nabbed vocal group, ending Little Big Town’s six-year winning streak. Rookie hitmaker Luke Combs won new artist. In a surprise victory, Kacey Musgraves beat out Stapleton, Urban, Thomas Rhett and Dierks Bentley for the album of the year prize.

The three-hour telecast opened with a tribute to the victims of last week’s mass shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as the producers showed all 12 names on the screen.

“Tonight’s show is lovingly dedicated to the 12 individuals whom we lost far too soon just a week ago tonight at the Borderline in Thousand Oaks, California,” said Garth Brooks, before he led the audience in a moment of silence. “Tonight, let’s celebrate their lives, let the music unite us with love and their enduring memory.”

A complete list of winners and nominees is below — here’s a rundown of some of the best and worst moments.

The 2018 Country Music Association Awards honored the twelve people killed at a mass shooting in a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)


Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris and Mavis Staples’s performance.

Stapleton knows a thing or two about collaborating on a viral CMAs moment (remember his career-making duet with Justin Timberlake in 2015?) and he certainly did his best to provide another one. Along with Morris, the breakout country star, and Staples, the gospel legend, the group lent their powerhouse vocals to “Friendship” and “I’ll Take You There.” Stapleton’s wife, Morgane, joined in, along with Marty Stuart and a gospel choir.

The crowd went wild: While “Friendship” is a track on Stapleton’s CMA-nominated album, it was originally recorded by Staples’s father, Pops Staples. “I’ll Take You There” is the 1972 hit from Staples’s family band, the Staple Singers. And now we have likely broken a record for the number of times a variation on the word “staple” has been used in a single news story.

Kacey Musgraves’s big night.

The singer’s eclectic third record, “Golden Hour,” received near-universal praise when it was released in March, yet she was considered a long shot for album of the year. Presenter Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town beamed as she read Musgraves’s name, and dedicated the award to “all the little girls writing songs out there.”

Why it’s a big deal that Kacey Musgraves won album of the year at the CMA Awards

Musgraves, who had one of the night’s best performances with the mesmerizing “Slow Burn,” looked shocked. “This is really, really crazy timing, because I just realized this morning — it sounds like a lie — 10 years ago today, I moved to Nashville,” she said. “Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, my two co-producers, made this record with me, and we poured everything we have into this. And I’m so proud of it.”

The Ricky Skaggs tribute.

Although there’s a constant debate about what’s considered “real” country music, it’s always fun watching the reactions of all the musicians (from pop-leaning to more traditional) at country award shows when a veteran singer takes the stage. This year, they went crazy during the tribute to bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs, one of the recent inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Accompanied by Urban, Brad Paisley and John Osborne — some of the best guitarists in Nashville — Skaggs played “Black Eyed Suzie,” “Highway 40 Blues” and “Country Boy.” There was lots of dancing in seats, while some (such as Martina McBride) recorded the epic show on their phones.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s lovefest.

A few weeks ago, Brooks revealed that he wanted to play a brand new ballad for his wife, Trisha Yearwood, at the CMAs — but executives weren’t thrilled with the idea. So Brooks was all, “Cool, then I just won’t perform anything.” Lo and behold, the CMA producers apparently changed their mind, because Brooks appeared on stage, and debuted a song called “Stronger Than Me.” What a power move!

Although sleepy acoustic ballads can be mood-killers, this was actually pretty sweet. (Sample lyrics: “If I have a choice, I’d pray God takes me first, cause you’re stronger than me.”) The camera panned back and forth between Brooks and Yearwood to the point where it felt almost too intimate of a moment. Mostly, it was just adorable.

Luke Bryan’s opening number.

Bryan kicked off the night with “What Makes You Country” — and invited a few pals to help, giving some much-deserved stage time to newcomers Ashley McBryde and Lindsay Ell, along with Jon Pardi, Luke Combs, Chris Janson and Cole Swindell. Not only were the guests a surprise, but it was a lot of fun.

The Pistol Annies.

Did you ever think you would see Miranda Lambert playing a washboard on national television while singing a song that maybe-not-but-probably takes a shot at her ex-husband, Blake Shelton? The Pistol Annies — Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley — were in fine form at the CMAs, adding a jolt of energy with the fiery, incredibly catchy “Got My Name Changed Back.”

Impressive songs from rising artists.

Looking at the iTunes charts after the show, new artist winner Luke Combs (“She Got the Best of Me”) and vocal duo nominee Dan + Shay ( “Tequila”) got big sales bumps for their singles. It’s no surprise for either, with Combs’s solid performance of one of his biggest hits, or Shay Mooney hitting a ridiculous high note as he closed the song.


Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s monologue.

This pair have been hosting the CMAs for 11 years, and they’ve developed excellent comic timing. However, this year. . .wasn’t great. While their parody songs are typically a highlight, these fell flat: Such as “A Star is Bored,” in which they made fun of all the snoozing celebrities in the audience. Except it didn’t make sense, because the show had just started, and no one was bored; both Urban and Stapleton looked confused when they were called out.

Even a cameo from viral country sensation Mason Ramsey couldn’t help. There were also far too many lame jokes about Underwood’s pregnancy, such as guessing the identity of the father. When they were poking fun at the many country singers opening bars in downtown Nashville, Paisley said, “In 2019, I hear Carrie is going to be opening her very own milk bar.” (“For a very exclusive clientele!” she added.)

However, we will give them credit for the joke about trying to copy the Emmys, and have someone propose on stage.

“Carrie, that’s not our style. This is country music,” Paisley reminded her. “So during tonight’s broadcast, one of our winners is going to be getting divorced.”

Lauren Alaina’s inexplicably short tribute.

When are country award shows going to let Lauren Alaina perform a full song on her own? The former “American Idol” runner-up has demonstrated her killer vocals again and again and finally had some radio success last year. But she only got a brief performance slot, in which she sang “A Lesson in Leavin'” as a tribute to Dottie West, a recent Hall of Fame inductee. While the new artist nominees all had varying degrees of time on stage, Alaina has more than earned a chance to at least sing her own material.

The lack of explanation for Midland’s Burt Reynolds tribute.

The trio’s rendition of Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down” was extremely entertaining — although also confusing to those not immediately familiar with the “Smokey and the Bandit” theme song, which we imagine is at least part of the CMA audience. The announcer promised before the break that Midland would “salute a Hollywood legend” but never mentioned that it was Burt Reynolds, who died this fall. The video clips on-screen eventually showed Reynolds, though it took awhile.

Complete list of winners and nominees:


Jason Aldean

Luke Bryan

Kenny Chesney

Chris Stapleton

Keith Urban — winner


“From A Room: Volume 2,” Chris Stapleton

“Golden Hour,” Kacey Musgraves — winner

“Graffiti U,” Keith Urban

“Life Changes,” Thomas Rhett

“The Mountain,” Dierks Bentley


“Broken Halos,” Chris Stapleton — winner

“Drinkin’ Problem,” Midland

“Drowns the Whiskey,” Jason Aldean feat. Miranda Lambert

“Meant to Be,” Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line

“Tequila,” Dan + Shay


“Body Like a Back Road,” Sam Hunt (written by Sam Hunt, Zach Crowell, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne)

“Broken Halos,” Chris Stapleton (written by Chris Stapleton, Mike Henderson) — winner

“Drowns the Whiskey,” Jason Aldean feat. Miranda Lambert (written by Brandon Kinney, Jeff Middleton, Josh Thompson)

“Drunk Girl,” Chris Janson (written by Chris Janson, Scooter Carusoe, Tom Douglas)

“Tequila,” Dan + Shay (written by Dan Smyers, Nicolle Galyon, Jordan Reynolds)


Kelsea Ballerini

Miranda Lambert

Maren Morris

Kacey Musgraves

Carrie Underwood — winner


Dierks Bentley

Luke Combs

Thomas Rhett

Chris Stapleton — winner

Keith Urban


Lauren Alaina

Luke Combs — winner

Chris Janson


Brett Young


Lady Antebellum


Little Big Town


Old Dominion — winner


Brothers Osborne — winner

Dan + Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Maddie & Tae



“Burning Man,” Dierks Bentley feat. Brothers Osborne

“Dear Hate,” Maren Morris feat. Vince Gill

“Drowns the Whiskey,” Jason Aldean feat. Miranda Lambert

“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” David Lee Murphy with Kenny Chesney — winner

“Meant to Be,” Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line


“Babe,” Sugarland (feat. Taylor Swift)

“Cry Pretty,” Carrie Underwood

“Drunk Girl,” Chris Janson

“Marry Me,” Thomas Rhett — winner

“Tequila,” Dan + Shay

Here's what celebrities wore at the 2018 CMA Awards

Bebe Rexha. (Jamie Gilliam/Reuters)

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