Luke Bryan has won his second Country Music Association Award for entertainer of the year, besting Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney and Eric Church.
Bryan, who won the honor last year, kissed the trophy multiple times at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday night.
“Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus, thank you everyone in heaven looking out for me,” Bryan said. “This is the best business in the world with the best people, Kenny, Garth, Eric, everybody I was nominated with.”
Bryan also said he was happy to see Chris Stapleton enjoy a big night with three wins, including male vocalist, new artist and album of the year for “Traveller.”
“About two years ago, I lost my dad and I made this record thinking about a lot of music he would like,” said Stapleton, who has written for Kenny Chesney, George Strait and others. “My mom is here tonight, I want to thank my mom.”
Stapleton hit the stage with Justin Timberlake, who tapped into his Memphis, Tennessee roots with a show-stopping performance. They strummed their guitars while singing “Tennessee Whiskey,” which Stapleton wrote, and followed that with Timberlake’s tune, “Drink You Away.”
The audience was in awe: Timberlake’s wife, actress Jessica Biel, watched excitedly and bopped her head while Keith Urban recorded the performance with his phone.
“Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton, thank you very much. I’m going to go home and practice,” Lambert said onstage when she won her sixth consecutive award for female vocalist of the year.
She beat out Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves and other.
“I appreciate it. I needed a bright spot this year,” Lambert said onstage.
Lambert could have been referring to her divorce to Blake Shelton, announced in July. Shelton, who performed at the live show on ABC, confirmed Wednesday just hours before the awards show that he and his fellow “Voice” mentor Gwen Stefani are dating.
Underwood and Brad Paisley even joked about the divorce at the top of the show.
“And of course we can’t ignore the breakup that rocked our world,” Underwood said, as the camera panned to Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog.
“On a completely unrelated topic, howdy Blake?” Paisley replied. The camera panned to Shelton who laughed and clapped his hands, along with the audience.
“Did you hear that duet that Blake did with Ashley Madison?” Paisley asked, earning laughs from the audience at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
“That was with Ashley Monroe,” Underwood replied.
That was followed by a pair of duets: Eric Church and Hank Williams Jr performed “Are You Ready for the Country” and John Mellencamp and Urban strummed their guitars during “Pink Houses.” Thomas Rhett, whose “Die A Happy Man” is No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot country songs chart, performed with rockers Fall Out Boy.
Sam Hunt won over the audience with his performance of “Take Your Time,” while Underwood sang “Smoke Break” and Musgraves performed “Dime Store Cowgirl” sporting a cowboy hat and shiny number revealing her legs and arms. Bryan sang his slow groove “Strip It Down,” while Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn also performed.
Little Big Town, who also earned applause for their performance of “Girl Crush,” won vocal group and single of the year for their No. 1 hit. The writers of “Girl Crush” won song of the year.
“This is about being brave and being bold,” Karen Fairchild said onstage with her group. “Country radio, thanks for having the guts for playing it.”
The foursome, along with Church, walked into the arena as the most nominated act with five. They lost music video of the year to Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song” and musical event of the year to Church and Urban.