-- Todd Martens
-- Todd Martens
Underwood takes entertainer of the year; Hough wins best new artist.
The 44th Academy of Country Music Awards swung political, personal, playful and patriotic on Sunday and ultimately opted for popular in bestowing its top honor on "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood, naming her entertainer of the year over veteran male performers George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban.
"I've had a lot of good moments in the past four years," the Oklahoma-born Underwood said at the climax of the three-hour event at the MGM Grand Arena, "but this one takes the cake."
The award was determined for the second year by popular vote during the show at CBS.com instead of being determined as it had been in past years by the performer who sold the most concert tickets during the previous 12 months, which would have given a fifth title to Chesney.
But the ACM, in striving to boost ratings and make the event more interactive for fans, opened the voting for entertainer and new artist to the public. That helped TV-friendly faces such as Underwood and former "Dancing With the Stars"-turned-country singer Julianne Hough, who took home the new artist trophy.
It was a big night as well for Internet-savvy teen phenom Taylor Swift, who sold more albums in 2008 than any other artist in any genre, passing 5 million. Her overwhelming success contributed to her sophomore album, "Fearless," which has topped 3 million since its release in November, being named album of the year.
Pop & Hiss brought you insta-reviews of all the ACM live performances, typos and all.
1. Brooks & Dunn & Taylor Swift & Sugarland & Carrie Underwood & Rascal Flatts. Here's one for those with short attention spans. Nearly everything the ACMs have to offer in a tidy little seven minutes! Host/country royalty Reba McEntire introduces the show by informing us that duo Brooks & Dunn is one of the most acclaimed acts in the history of the awards, but what follows isn't their time to shine. Instead, Brooks & Dunn become the anchor for whizz-bang medley. Swift rocked out with "Picture to Burn," looking more assured than ever. Underwood showed off her near-perfect vocals with a brief turn at "All-American Girl," Sugarland was delightfully poppy and Rascal Flatts represented some country good ol' boys. "That's what I call a stimulus package," McEntire said. We'd rather have cash, but it was a solid opening. B+
2. Kenny Chesney's "Out Last Night." The lead single from his upcoming greatest hits package is a pleasant enough up-tempo rocker, representing immediately how country award shows are different from the Grammys. Less than 15 minutes in, and we have an ode to being drunk. Rather than approach anything dangerous or reckless, Chesney spins this tale of hangin' at the local bar into a neat little slice of nostalgia. B.
Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus will anchor one of country music's two annual award parties Sunday evening. Airing live for the East Coast on CBS at 8 p.m., the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) will have about a seven-month head start on the Country Music Assn. Awards. Paisley leads the nominee field with six, and former Trick Pony vocalist Heidi Newfield is right behind him with five.
Winners and performance reviews will be posted here on Pop & Hiss. In the meantime, here's a few things to look out for:
- Is it time for the country women to take over? There hasn't been much competition when it comes to awarding the top prize at either country award show. At the ACMs, Kenny Chesney has won entertainer of the year four years running and has won the like-minded award at the CMAs for the last four of five years.
But changes seem to be afoot in the country hierarchy. The genre's biggest crossover successes in the past two years were women, namely Swift and Carrie Underwood. As for Underwood, she has a chance to make history. She's nominated as entertainer of the year and is the first female to snare such honors since 2000, when the Dixie Chicks took home the prize.
Betting against Chesney is a risk, but this is the second consecutive year in which entertainer of the year is voted by fans, which just may give Underwood the edge. Chesney is a country workhorse, but Underwood is an "American Idol."
OK, we're not going to carry through on that threat, but "The Climb," the initial song/video released from the film, warrants that the April 10 flick at least be on our radar. Conveniently timed, as the young star has been in apology mode for making what she deemed were "goofy faces," the song comes equipped with some lyrical admissions of guilt. "Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose," sings the young Billy Ray, tapping into some full-on Nashville earnestness.
Our friends at Idolator have tagged the song "goopy," but as far as orchestra-enhanced sappiness goes, "The Climb," to paraphrase the tune, is at the top of the mountain. It might just be some pre-Valentine's Day gooeyness round these parts, but "The Climb" is the rare Miley ballad that's on par with some of her more spunky teen pop.
Her raspy voice brings a bit of country grit to the squeaky-clean piano notes -- this isn't about reflection, it's about determination. And just as the pretty acoustics seem ready to bury the song in cheese, a sudden, spiky burst of violins (or synths that sound like violins) swoops in right before the 3-minute mark, turning a slow dance into an arm raiser.
Granted, Miley sings about "taking chances," and the song takes none. But it's also a tune built for a massive crowd sing-along with a free iPhone app, and we should expect no less for our best teen pop stars.
The video, however, is another matter. It's better than the last-minute feel of "7 Things," and it's nice to see Miley sportin' a guitar as one of her accessories, but it also looks a bit like Miley has stepped into a Thomas Kinkade painting. And those weird dance twitches she does make it look like Miley is grooving to a different tune than her own.
Ah well, the clip has lots of horses, and I've been told that stallions are big with the kids these days.
-- Todd Martens