Blake Shelton won the biggest prize of the night at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville on Wednesday, and the person who looked the most shocked was ... well, Blake Shelton.
The country star and "Voice" coach seemed genuinely stunned when his name was called for video of the year, which he won for his most recent No. 1 single, "I'll Name the Dogs." Shelton had already won male video of the year, and when he arrived onstage to claim his second trophy, he confessed he already used up all of his material.
So he doubled down on something he mentioned during his first acceptance speech - he's surprised he's still winning awards, despite being the oldest singer competing in a field of younger artists.
"I've been doing this for 18 years, I've been making records, and lucky enough that you guys have accepted them," said Shelton, 41. "I gotta say, it's so cool to sit up here tonight with this new generation of country artists that are coming up. I may one of the last old guys that is excited to embrace and be excited about the new generation."
Hmm, a subtle dig at legacy acts who aren't thrilled about the direction modern country music is headed? Either way, it was a big night for new Nashville singers at the annual fan-voted show: Dan + Shay won duo video for their ballad "Tequila," over award show staples Brothers Osborne and Florida Georgia Line. In the collaborative video category, Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina's duet "What Ifs" triumphed over Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake's "Say Something."
Of course, some longtime favorites still took home prizes: Carrie Underwood nabbed female video for "The Champion," her collaboration with Ludacris, earning her an 18th CMT Music award - the most of any artist in history. Little Big Town, who also hosted the event, won group video for the tearjerker "When Someone Stops Loving You."
Here are some of the best and worst moments from the telecast:
Carrie Underwood singing "Cry Pretty."
The superstar's recovery from a mysterious injury overshadowed the performance her new single, "Cry Pretty," at the ACM Awards in April. Now that she's cleared the air about her much-discussed accident, the focus was back on her stellar vocals. Unsurprisingly, Underwood knocked it out of the park, accompanied by her new signature glittery teardrops and a background of sparkly beaded curtains.
Carly Pearce's reaction to her win.
Pearce has gone through some rough times since she moved to Nashville nearly a decade ago, and finally had her first breakout hit last year with the haunting ballad "Every Little Thing." So when she won the breakthrough video award, she immediately burst into tears, and cried all the way from her seat to the stage.
"I sat up in the stands with my mom so many years, wondering if I would ever get here," she said, voice shaking as she accepted her trophy. "Fans, you have absolutely changed everything for me."
However, she ended on a triumphant note, as she was inspired to write "Every Little Thing" after a grueling breakup: "I just have to say one more thing. To the guy that broke my heart: thank you!"
Sam Hunt's performance.
Hunt is a fascinating case study in country music, as he had an enormous amount of success out of the gate with a hugely popular debut album in 2014. Yet he's in no particular rush to follow up with a sophomore record (very unusual for Nashville) and is sporadically dropping new songs whenever he feels like it.
For the CMT Music Awards, he belted out his new single, "Downtown's Dead," during a logistically complicated performance - the cameras followed him outside as he sang while meandering in and out of bars in downtown Nashville. Somehow, he made it work. He eventually made it to a stage, and the whole thing ended with fireworks.
There was some painful banter between presenters (more on that later), yet Sugarland - reuniting after five years apart with a new album this week - managed to be quite charming. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush faux-bickered about the reason for their "breakup" until Nettles reassured the crowd, "We're fine, people, everything's maaagical!"
Darius Rucker and friends.
Rucker's live TV performances are generally delightful, especially if he pulls in his Nashville pals. This time, he included Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley on a high-energy cover of Drivin' N' Cryin' track "Straight to Hell," a collaboration that appears on Rucker's latest album. They looked like they were having a truly grand time as they closed the show.
Kelsea Ballerini's performance.
Although it's tempting to go all out with tons of production at award shows, quiet moments are always essential - and Ballerini's rendition of "I Hate Love Songs" fit the bill. She started the cleverly-written ballad as an acoustic performance, sitting down with just her guitar, before the full band joined in.
The Backstreet Boys.
As someone who is the prime target audience for boy-band nostalgia, even I have to admit that this performance was, at best, completely unnecessary. Sure, the group won the CMT performance prize for "Everybody" with Florida Georgia Line from their "CMT Crossroads" episode; plus, the two groups had a hit on country radio last year, "God, Your Mama and Me." But as BSB rocked out to their new song, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," (not even an older classic!) it felt extremely out of place on a show where actual country artists would have loved some airtime.
Some of the onstage banter between presenters.
First, there was "Today" show host Hoda Kotb and Jon Pardi, as the singer "auditioned" for the "Today" show. After that dragged on, "This Is Us" star Chrissy Metz appeared with Rascal Flatts, and it delved into a weird bit where they took selfies. It's unclear why these NBC stars were in attendance (Joel McHale was also a presenter and admitted he had no idea why he was there), and they definitely needed better jokes.
The opening skit.
Speaking of jokes ... the pre-taped opener scored a few laughs as country stars poked fun at Nashville's new status as the No. 1 destination for bachelorette parties. It all led to this sight gag with Jake Owen, Dustin Lynch and Jon Pardi, which could have been much funnier.
Jason Aldean's "Drowns the Whiskey" without Miranda Lambert.
No word on the whereabouts of Lambert, who sings on the track with Aldean - she's usually an award show highlight. So even though Aldean did just fine, her absence was glaring.