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Live Blogging the 2011 Academy of Country Music Awards

7:55 p.m.: Welcome to the 46th annual Academy of Country Music Awards. We arrived in Las Vegas yesterday and the question floating around is not if Blake Shelton, who is co-hosting with Reba McEntire for the first time, will say something that has to be bleeped while on air, but how many times will he say something that sends the censors running to the bleep button and leave the audience going, “Did he really just say that?”  We suggest starting a drinking game: take a shot every time he’s bleeped. Anyone who’s ever read Shelton’s tweets for a day know he’s a loose cannon–and a hilarious one at that. Will his fiance Miranda Lambert sweep the awards?  She leads all nominees with seven. How will Rihanna and Jennifer Nettles sound together? (we’re guessing great). Will the world at large know who Jason Aldean is after tonight?  Follow all the action here.

8 p.m. Show opening is Blake Shelton singing  “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” but there’s no way they’re going to play this straight.. It’s a taped piece and his love is Reba playing Miranda. Cut to Miranda in the audience, who doesn’t look that thrilled. Funny, but actually less ribald than we expected.  Brad Paisley’s opening the show with “Old Alabama.” Cue the members of Alabama. First standing ovation of the evening for the members of Alabama who basically wrote the book on country music. Randy Owens looks grizzled and Teddy Owens looks like he’s been living in a cave plotting a government overthrow, but damn, it’s good to hear them again, although we bet there are plenty of younger viewers who are wondering who these old dudes are.

8:07 p.m.: Nothing says country like Celine Dion… She started her new residency here last month, I’m blogging from back stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena so just know there will be moments that folks are backstage that I won’t be able to tell what’s going on in the front of the house, but I will bring you reactions from the winners as they come back. I did just hear Blake Shelton’s line about Eric Church’s song, “Smoke a Little Smoke” being about Miley Cyrus.And be warned, you break little country sweetheart Taylor Swift’s heart and you’ll not only get her ire, you’ll get the industry coming down on you and making a “Brokeback Mountain” joke. A few more feeble jokes roll by, but they have a very nice easy-going chemistry and Blake is showing no first time jitters at all.

B:16 p.m.: Toby Keith is singing “Somewhere Else” and we swear he slipped by a “goddamn,” but we may be hearing a house feed. It’s a jaunty little tune. Toby loves the ACMs. He boycotts the other big country awards show, the CMAs,pretty much. It’s a long story. Here’s the thing about the performances tonight, unlike so many pop and R&B artists, country acts tend to stay pretty much glued to one spot so the good news is their vocals will likely sound good, but their performances might be a little boring. We guarantee there will be no lipsyncing. We hope someone surprises us.

8:20: p.m.We’ve lost the show feed in the press room, so we hope we’re not missing the greatest performance ever on stage.  Basically, the press room seems to be held together by a few cables and some duct tape. Word is filtering back that we’re missing Carrie Underwood and Steven Tyler. We’re back and it’s the very tail end of “Walk This Way” Did Tyler go in for a kiss and Underwood dodged him?  You’ll have to let us know how they did. We basically saw her wailing at the end. Did we just miss the performance of the show?

8:31 p.m. McEntire and Shelton are now over at the Mandalay Bay from where a number of performances will be beamed live. Sugarland is playing “Tonight” from “The Incredible Machine,” which pretty much tanked. It was just too much of a stretch for folks. Someone backstage just said they feel like they just walked into an Indigo Girls concert the song is so redolent of one of their tunes. LOL.  Lead singer Jennifer Nettles does have an otherworldly voice and sounds great. Raise your hand if you know the name of her partner in Sugarland. I can’t decide if he’s the luckiest son of a bitch to get as far as he did or if he’s planning to push her off stage one day and revolt. Nettles will be performing with Rihanna later on tonight. She also has the ability to open her mouth wider when she sings than anyone else we’ve ever seen in our lives.

8:37 p.m. Are we watching an awards show? Unless they handed something out while we were in our blackout period, we’ve gone nearly 40 minutes without a single trophy being handed out.  Even the Grammys would have managed to squeeze out a trophy or two. Dierks Bentley just ran into the crowd as he sings his new tune, “Am I The Only One.” I don’t know how impressed I am with the party anthem, but I am mightily impressed with the fact that he booked it up several flights of stairs and isn’t even remotely winded. Boy is in shape! I’d have collapsed on the first landing.

8:47 p.m.: Keith Urban is performing “Without You” with the black and white footage from the video in the back. It’s a lovely understated performance. We really are going a full hour without an award. And that would be why that some of the awards have already been handed out before– Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” won video of the year, while Zac Brown Band  and Alan Jackson captured vocal event of the year for “As She’s Walking Away. “

8:50 p.m.: Bad ass Eric Church is singing “Smoke A Little Smoke” with his sunglasses on. Remember, this is the guy who Rascal Flatts threw off their tour five years ago for being too rowdy. It certainly wasn’t because of a low-key performance like this.

8:52 p.m.: What? Chace Crawford and Brooklyn Decker are presenting song of the year. One of the biggest awards of the evening, other than album and entertainer of the year. I’m saying it’s “The House that Build Me.” WIN!  This was my No. 2 song of the year for 2010. It’s a heartbreaker and it still slays me every time I hear it. It’s a classic song.  Co-writer Allen Shamblin just made everyone in the press room go “Awww” when he said from stage, “To this kids that haven’t found a house yet, I pray you find the home that builds you.” We may seem ornery, but we’re really just a bunch of softies.

9:00 p.m.: Taylor Swift is performing “Mean” on a front porch of a fake house surrounded by acoustic musicians. Everyone is dressed from the ’30s. Does she think she’s a member of The Carter Family? The house disappears and skyscrapers appear to indicate she’s moved to the big old city. It’s charming, but odd.

9:05 p.m.: The Band Perry–one of the worst group names ever– are running through their song of their year nominee “If I Die Young.” Lead Perry, sister Kimberly Perry  is impassioned, but she doesn’t sound good tonight and the whole thing feels anemic. The worst performance of the night so far.  But boy, Reid Perry’s hair looks shiny. He’s like a pretty show pony. Despite the weak appearance, I still think they’re an act to watch and the fans do as well, since they just voted them for best new artist over Eric Church.

9:14 p.m.: Blake Shelton just called Jason Aldean “my little buddy.” He’s going to pay for that later. Here’s the thing about Jason Aldean, who’s playing “Dirt Road Anthem,” I don’t remember when there was an artist who was the absolute biggest thing in his format and yet no one outside of the genre has any clue who he is. (It’s not quite the same as Garth Brooks before Nielsen SoundScan showed him to the be the top artist in the land in 1991, but  it’s astonishing to us that he has no traction outside of country). Part of that is because he’s on a small indie that doesn’t have a lot of juice, but he is tearing up the road and at least half of the bands we interviewed on the red carpet earlier today are opening for him or have just come off the road with him. The rest of the world will catch up eventually.

9:20 p.m.: Single record of the year… we say it’s “The House the Built Me.” Yes!  Nancy O’Dell, who’s dressed like an Oscar in all gold, presents. Country artists love her… maybe it’s the southern accent. For those counting at home, Miranda is three for four already.

9:27 p.m.: Host Shelton is singing “Honey Bee.” It’s hard to believe the same dude who sings “Hillbilly Bone” is singing this piece of southern pablum. We’re not saying “Hillbilly Bone” is a great song…it’s not even a good one, but it certainly seems to fit Shelton’s personality than this too sweet tune.

9:29 p.m.: It’s album of the year time already. We’re handing it to Lady Antebellum, since closing for the ACM voting closed after the Grammys, which, no doubt swayed a lot of voters. “Hell, if it’s good enough for the Grammys, darn-tootin’ it’s good enough for us.”  We’re right, but Miranda Lambert slurred the words so drastically that we weren’t sure for a second. Lambert won this award last year.

9:38 p.m.: Shelton says the MGM Grand is so large it would take Charlie Sheen 12 years to trash every room. McEntire says she thought they weren’t going to do any celebrity joke. Shelton says, “that’s not a joke.”  I’m liking him as a host and as a co-hosts, they have it all over Franco and Hathaway. Of course, I could get up there with my cat Callie and host better than they did  (or better than Franco did). Sara Evans is singing her comeback single “Stronger.”  It would seem that the unpleasantness of her really nasty 2006 split is behind her (Remember, she dropped out of “Dancing With the Stars” suddenly and the next day the divorce was announced and lots of horrific accusations flew back and forth). She gets a standing O. Donny and Marie, who are appearing in Las Vegas, are presenting top vocal group of the year. It will go to Lady A, but at least Zac Brown Band’s nom in the same category makes it interesting.  The winner is Lady A. Man, I should have laid down some bets on my predictions this year since I’m in Vegas.

9:45 p.m.: Montgomery & Gentry just showed some of the highlights of the week. Showing footage of the first ever NRA Celebrity rifle shoot, or whatever it’s called, is going to do nothing to make country music more appealing to urbanites. I read earlier today where Troy Gentry was talking about how hunting is a fun activity for the whole family. Tell that to Bambi. Gentry has purchased a pink camo rifle for his daughter. I don’t even know what to say about that.

9:51 p.m.: Shelton introduces his wife-to-be Lambert with an unfunny sketch about how his only role in the wedding planning is parting with his money. Oh, I think if we looked at their checkbooks and royalty statements, Lambert would make Shelton look like a golddigger… a golddigger who’s getting richer and richer by the minute, but we imagine she’s made more in her five years in the biz than he has in his 10. We know,  it was a joke….Funny that the second line in her song, “Heart Like Mine” is “I ain’t the kind to wear no ring.” I wish those crazy kids all the luck in their life together as man and wife.

9:55 p.m.: Sugarland’s Kristian Bush just announced that it’s his pleasure to step back from Sugarland for a minute and let someone else step in with Nettles. Oh Kristian, no one will notice you’re gone. We kid.  Rihanna, dressed in a sleeveless white dress, has on more clothes than I’ve ever seen her in. All her outfits from her past several TV appearances sewn together wouldn’t offer this much coverage. She and Nettles are in opposite sides of the stage. They sound completely out of sync and Nettles is totally overwhelming her because, well, one of them can really sing. You know who we’d like to see sing with Nettles? Mary J. Blige…though they may try to outscream themselves. But good for them for trying something different. Or as we say in the south. “Bless their hearts.”

10:08 p.m.: Lady A just came backstage. Funniest moment: someone asked them what they would do if they weren’t making music. Charles Kelley decided to answer for all and said that Dave Haywood would probably be an accountant since he was the brains in the group. “Internal auditor,” jumped in Haywood. Kelley predicted Hilary Scott would be doing something to help others since she just returned from a trip to Haiti and Kelley said he’d be doing something with houses, to which Haywood piped in: “Is watching ‘HGTV’  a job?” It’s those quiet ones you have to watch. The bad thing is we missed Ronnie Dunn’s first awards show solo performance since Brooks & Dunn split up. “Bleed Red” is pretty hokey, but we’ve missed his voice. Sugarland wins top vocal duo of the year and in other news, the sky is blue.

10:15 p.m.: Martina McBride is singing her new single “Teenage Daughters.” With two teenagers of her own, it’s probably one of her truest songs ever, but it’s a lousy song and the appeal is so small– the universe of parents with teenager daughters– although I do love that it’s not a song about how wonderful parenthood is every minute.

10:25 p.m.: Brad Paisley won male vocalist, but we missed it completely because The Band Perry was backstage. They’re celebrating by eating. Then we missed what looked like a very moving performance by Darius Rucker with some people with disabilities because Sugarland called in to talk about their win.

10:39 p.m.: McEntire just sung her new song and now Reese Witherspoon and Rob Pattinson are going through a painfully funny routine about moonshine and saying ‘hello y’all.” Witherspoon is from Nashville, so she should know better and should have killed this sketch. It’s simply horrible, embarrassing and pathetic. Otherwise, it was great. Lambert wins female vocalist of the year. She chides Witherspoon and Pattinson and says, ‘it’s ‘how are y’all.'” That was really just horrible. Witherspoon should have to give back her Oscar.

10:48 p.m: Zac Brown Band is joined by James Taylor for a medley of “Country Weather” and “Sweet Baby James.” We usually hate it when a veteran artist has to suck it up and sing some young upstart’s song (yes, we mean Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks), but this one works beautifully. Taylor makes it his own. I have friends who hate James Taylor, which I’ve never understood. To me, his voice is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket.  HIs voice is comfort food to me. ZBB is a live band and they’re tearing it up on stage…in so much as any band is tonight. What is under Brown’s knit cap? We’re guessing nothing since it’s hot as hell here today, he’s not wearing it to keep warm. Taylor frequently wears a hat, so we’re not feeling like the cowboy hat is simply an affectation here. Plus, he was probably as big an influence on every artist in that room as Merle Haggard.

10:57 p.m.: Well, that’s a shock. No, not that Julianne Hough’s boyfriend, Ryan Seacrest, is presenting Entertainer of the Year. The surprise is that Taylor Swift is the winner, however, it’s a fan-voted award so that explains it.  It’s her first time winning this. She sweet thanks the fans and says, “you are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

If an awards show falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? We’re not saying the ACMs were boring– especially because we think we missed the best performances: Carrie Underwood and Steven Tyler and Darius Rucker with the ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp Choir.

What did you think?

By Melinda Newman – Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, and Rob Pattinson are here for the fun





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