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Taylor Swift is youngest to ever win CMA's top award

November 11, 2009 |  9:08 pm
The Country Music Assn. selects the 19-year-old as entertainer of the year over veteran male singers. She wins in all four categories she is nominated.

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Country Music Assn. voters largely turned their back on tradition in anointing teenage country-pop star Taylor Swift and a whole slate of relative newcomers with most of its top honors at Wednesday's CMA Awards ceremony in Nashville.

The CMA bypassed long-serving veterans including George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban in selecting Swift the youngest recipient ever of its top honor, entertainer of the year, an award meant for the musician who exhibits the most impressive all-around performance during the preceding year.

By that criteria, it was hard to argue with their choice: The 19-year-old has sold more than 10 million albums in the three years since she released her debut, making her the biggest thing in country and pop music.

Swift won all four categories in which she was nominated, taking home trophies for album of the year, female vocalist and music video.

"Thank you for saying that you like my diary," Swift told voters, and by extension, fans, when she collected the best album prize for 2008's "Fearless."

In an era of declining music sales, the CMA voters chose to reward Swift despite her youth and, this year anyway, abandoning the axiom that the country establishment is slow to embrace the new.

The Nashville-based CMA characteristically has been more tradition-minded than the West Coast-based Academy of Country Music and certainly more so than the Grammy Awards-bestowing Recording Academy. Yet in addition to Swift's perfect batting average for the evening, the organization gave top awards to Darius Rucker, former leader of rock group Hootie & the Blowfish, who struck platinum with his countrified solo album "Learn to Live."

Freshman trio Lady Antebellum upstaged Rascal Flatts in being named group of the year, and duo Sugarland bested long-reigning twosome Brooks & Dunn, who recently announced that they will retire following a 2010 tour.

That left just two awards for singer, songwriter and guitarist Paisley, who had come into the show with a field-leading seven nominations. He won for male vocalist and musical event, an award he shared with Keith Urban for their duet "Start a Band."

New blood also reigned in the single and song of the year categories, with awards to Lady Antebellum for the single "I Run to You" and Jamey Johnson for his "In Color," which the country maverick wrote with Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto.

Johnson demurely thanked the CMA voters, saying "I never thought you guys would let me come to things like this."

As much as industry attention had been focused on the entertainer category because of Swift's presence as a 19-year-old female upstart contending with a bunch of male veterans, it's nearly as big an upset that Lady Antebellum swept past Rascal Flatts in the vocal group contest.

The Eagles might have dwarfed all comers in the category in terms of concert ticket revenue, but Nashville looks at the L.A. boomer rock group as, well, an L.A. boomer rock group. Lady A's win signaled the country establishment's readiness this year to look to country's future more than its proven quantities.

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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Photo: Faith Hill, from left with Tim McGraw as Taylor Swift accepts the CMA Award for entertainer of the year. Credit: Getty Images

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