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ACM Awards 2022: Best and worst moments, complete list of winners

Co-hosts Gabby Barrett, left, Dolly Parton and Jimmie Allen address the crowd Monday during the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

After much hype, the Academy of Country Music Awards officially became the first major award show to switch from broadcast television to streaming-only on Monday night; the annual ceremony was available only on Amazon Prime Video, airing live from Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

While some have speculated that streaming may be one way to save award shows, given that their TV ratings have plummeted across the board, time will tell — there were certainly some growing pains as the ACMs switched up the format for the first time in years, squeezing the show into two hours without commercials. But producers made sure to bring in the star power, enlisting country icon Dolly Parton to co-host with rising stars Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett.

In a rare move for country music award shows, which normally prefer that you don’t talk about anything topical, Parton kicked things off by bringing up Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I don’t want to be political, and this is not; I’d rather pass a kidney stone than do that,” said Parton, who often shies away from politics. “But I want us to send our love and hope to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.”

Other than Parton, only Old Dominion lead singer Matthew Ramsey mentioned the invasion, saying in his group’s acceptance speech that it felt weird to be celebratory while “people are fighting for their lives right now.” Everyone else stuck to the typical script.

Carly Pearce continued her career-defining year by landing the trophy for female vocalist, along with music event of the year for her duet with Ashley McBryde. Newcomer Lainey Wilson tied Pearce for wins, taking the new female artist prize, plus a surprise victory for song of the year for her first No. 1 radio hit, “Things a Man Oughta Know.”

And in case it wasn’t already obvious, much of the industry is ready to move on from the controversy surrounding Morgan Wallen being caught on camera saying the n-word last February. In his first award show appearance since the incident, Wallen won album of the year for “Dangerous,” the top-selling record of 2021, and thanked “everyone who has shown me grace along the way.”

Later, Miranda Lambert (who also took home two prizes) became the ninth female artist in the show’s 57-year history to win the biggest award, entertainer of the year — though she had to accept it virtually because she’s touring in Europe. Here were some of the other best and worst moments, with a full list of winners and nominees below.

You may know him as the ‘Applebee’s guy,’ but country star Walker Hayes is more than a viral TikTok

BEST

Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde’s duet

Something about slowing things down during a live TV performance makes the audience absolutely riveted — and that’s what happened when Pearce and McBryde sang an acoustic version of their hit duet, “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.” (Pearce sings from the perspective of the girl who is being cheated on; McBryde is the girl that the man is cheating with.) Though they performed the same track at the Country Music Association Awards in the fall, they put an entirely different spin on it this time around, and it was easily one of the highlights of the night.

Kelly Clarkson’s cover

Clarkson’s attempt at a country music career didn’t really work, but the pop superstar turned daytime talk show host proved that she can continue to crush any vocal from any genre. Her soaring rendition of “I Will Always Love You” at the end of the telecast was a tad random but brought down the house and led to an onstage hug from Parton, the original songwriter. “I was backstage trying not to cry my false eyelashes off!” Parton exclaimed.

Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett’s performance

Hosting is often a thankless job, and Allen and Barrett gamely hung in there, though they clearly knew that their roles were to serve as Parton’s sidekicks. (Which, yes, probably legally required Allen to make a joke about how, although Parton has the endurance of the Energizer Bunny, she looks more like a Playboy Bunny. Never gets old!) But the two up-and-coming co-hosts had just the right amount of energy as they jump-started the ceremony with Elvis’s “Viva Las Vegas,” followed by Faith Hill’s “Let’s Go to Vegas.”

Brothers Osborne’s pointed speech

Acceptance speeches can be extremely boring, but the Brothers Osborne know what the people want. “About a week ago, they pulled our single from country radio, so I needed a little wind put in our sails,” T.J. Osborne said when the Maryland siblings won duo of the year. Although his record label probably would have preferred if he hadn’t publicly aired behind-the-scenes issues, that’s the kind of candor that fans love. The duo capped off the night with an electric performance of their song “Skeletons,” followed by a collaboration with fellow Maryland native Brittney Spencer on Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.”

Thomas Rhett’s performance

Rhett, long an industry favorite, continues to grow stronger as a live performer; he threw himself into his latest single, “Slow Down Summer,” starting at the piano. He also added a burst of enthusiasm with an appearance during new artist Breland’s “Praise the Lord,” easily one of the catchiest songs of the night.

Lainey Wilson’s big night

Wilson, who released her first major-label album in 2021, looked as shocked as anyone that she beat the competition in a tough category to win song of the year for “Things a Man Oughta Know.” “Holy moly, y’all,” she said as she accepted the trophy, adding that country music has been her life since growing up in rural Louisiana. She noted that the lyrics should be a lesson for everyone in general, not just men: “This song is about treating people right.”

Chris Stapleton’s performance

Stapleton released “Watch You Burn” — a rage-filled track aimed at the mass shooter at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas — in 2020. But it took the song to another level to see him perform it so close to where the massacre occurred.

WORST

Strange production issues

Any new version of an award show has to make adjustments, but there were definitely some bumps — it was jarring to see the show at a stadium, rather than its former home of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, especially because it was still light outside when it started. The sound seemed off on several performances early on, and unfortunate camera angles during Walker Hayes’s walk-and-sing of “AA” and his smash “Fancy Like” made it clear that there were many empty seats; in addition, the shaky camera following him was a recipe for motion sickness. Plus, one of the best parts of celebrity-packed trophy shows is seeing artist reactions while their famous peers perform (such as Carrie Underwood looking awestruck by Kelly Clarkson), but producers mostly focused on random fans dancing in the crowd.

Eric Church’s odd choice of medley

Church was introduced as a superstar with a 16-year career, and while he has plenty of hits, he decided to play snippets of more than a dozen. It was oddly frustrating to start getting into songs such as “Drink in My Hand,” “Springsteen” or “Love Your Love the Most,” only for Church to abruptly stop a few lines in and lead into another.

The confusion over Luke Bryan

Many fans on social media were puzzled to see Bryan perform “Up,” as well as his hit “Buy Dirt” with Jordan Davis, given the “American Idol” judge had a big concert scheduled at the Houston Rodeo on Monday night. A show spokeswoman later confirmed that Bryan prerecorded the performance … but if you’re promoting a live show, it’s probably best to disclose that to the audience. (The spokeswoman added it was mentioned in an earlier news release.)

Miranda Lambert not actually in attendance for her win

This is one of those things that’s not really anyone’s fault (again, Lambert is in Europe on tour) but it certainly ended the show with a thud when the biggest award was accepted via remote screen.

WINNERS

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR

Eric Church

Luke Combs

Miranda Lambert — winner

Chris Stapleton

Carrie Underwood

FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Gabby Barrett

Miranda Lambert

Ashley McBryde

Maren Morris

Carly Pearce — winner

MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Jimmie Allen

Luke Combs

Thomas Rhett

Chris Stapleton — winner

Morgan Wallen

DUO OF THE YEAR

Brooks & Dunn

Brothers Osborne — winner

Dan + Shay

LOCASH

Maddie & Tae

GROUP OF THE YEAR

Lady A

Little Big Town

Midland

Old Dominion — winner

The Cadillac Three

NEW FEMALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Tenille Arts

Priscilla Block

Lily Rose

Caitlyn Smith

Lainey Wilson — winner

NEW MALE ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Hardy

Walker Hayes

Ryan Hurd

Parker McCollum — winner

Elvie Shane

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

“29: Written in Stone,” Carly Pearce

“Country Again: Side A,” Thomas Rhett

“Dangerous: The Double Album,” Morgan Wallen — winner

“Famous Friends,” Chris Young

“The Marfa Tapes,” Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall

SINGLE OF THE YEAR

“Buy Dirt,” Jordan Davis feat. Luke Bryan

“Fancy Like,” Walker Hayes

“Famous Friends,” Chris Young and Kane Brown

“If I Didn’t Love You,” Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood — winner

“You Should Probably Leave,” Chris Stapleton

SONG OF THE YEAR

“Buy Dirt,” Jordan Davis feat. Luke Bryan (written by Davis, Jacob Davis, Josh Jenkins, Matt Jenkins)

“Fancy Like,” Walker Hayes (written by Hayes, Cameron Bartolini, Josh Jenkins, Shane Stevens)

“7 Summers,” Morgan Wallen (written by Wallen, Josh Osborne, Shane McAnally)

“Things a Man Oughta Know,” Lainey Wilson (written by Wilson, Jason Nix, Jonathan Singleton) — winner

“Knowing You,” Kenny Chesney (written by Adam James, Brett James, Kat Higgins)

VIDEO OF THE YEAR

“Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde

“If I Didn’t Love You,” Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood

“Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” Elle King and Miranda Lambert — winner

“Famous Friends,” Chris Young and Kane Brown

“I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version),” Taylor Swift feat. Chris Stapleton

MUSIC EVENT OF THE YEAR

“Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde — winner

“If I Didn’t Love You,” Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood

“Famous Friends,” Chris Young and Kane Brown

“Buy Dirt,” Jordan Davis feat. Luke Bryan

“Half of My Hometown,” Kelsea Ballerini feat. Kenny Chesney

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