Miranda Lambert’s never turned into now on Monday night when the Academy of Country Music bestowed its winningest artist in history with the night’s top prize – Entertainer of the Year – at the 57th ACM Awards. The win is Lambert’s 37th from the Academy but her first Entertainer of the Year victory. Her achievement marks the first time a female has won the title without sharing it since Taylor Swift took the honor a decade ago. (Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett tied for the trophy in 2020.)
“I’ve been waiting for this a really long time,” said Lambert via satellite during her emotional acceptance speech. The singer wasn’t at the two-hour Las Vegas event because she’s playing concerts in Europe. It was the first time she missed the ACM Awards in 17 years. “I never thought (this win) would happen. This one goes out to all the singer-songwriter girls out there that put their blood, sweat and tears into their guitar strings. We did it! This is for us!”
Lainey Wilson won the most awards of the night with three. The New Female Artist of the Year winner learned of the triumph before the show. But the Song of the Year win for her hit “Things a Man Oughta Know” was a complete surprise – and because she both wrote and performed the song, it counts as two.
“Country music is my life and has been for as long as I can remember,” Wilson said. “Country radio has supported me so, so much, and I’ll tell you what, the country music fans have wrapped their loving arms around me, which is a prayer answered. This song is about treating people right, and it’s not something that just a man oughta know. It’s something that we all need to know; it’s about the golden rule.”
Lambert and Carly Pearce took two awards each. Lambert and Elle King won video of the year with “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” Pearce won Female Artist of the Year and Music Event of the Year with Ashley McBryde for their hit “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.”
When Pearce took the stage to make her acceptance speech for Female Artist of the Year, she was able to stay composed. She dissolved into emotional hysterics at the CMA Awards when she won its Female Vocalist of the Year trophy in November.
“I truly don’t know how to put this into words for you, but this is all I ever wanted to do in the whole world,” Pearce said. “I feel like (the last year) has been the craziest thing in the world. I feel so honored just to be a female amongst all the females I love so much. You guys let me tell my truth, and I feel like you found your truth inside my songs.”
With Lambert capturing the most prestigious award of the night and women also emerging as top winners, it could be a nod that country music is inching steadily toward the gender equality for which its been striving for the last several years.
In addition to welcoming women with open arms, the show also embraced Morgan Wallen. Wallen was frozen out of many country music industry events over the last year following his drunken use of a racial slur, but Monday night, the ACM voters named his “Dangerous: The Double Album” the best of the year. In 2021, the collection was the top seller across all genres, with 3.2 million units sold.
Humbled, Wallen took the stage to make his speech and paused on the platform to take several deep breaths as the crowd cheered. He carefully read his speech from his phone.
“When I started this album, I was a kid,” he said. “By the time I put it out, I was a father.” Wallen’s son Wilder is 20 months old.
“That’s become more important to me than anything else,” Wallen continued. “To my son, this album and this award will signify that his daddy was a fighter, and he chased his dreams and worked hard to make them a reality.”
Wallen thanked his co-writers on the album and said it wouldn’t be complete without each of them.
“I’d also like to thank my good lord and savior Jesus Christ, my family, my friends, my team in Nashville, country radio and everyone who has shown me grace along the way,” he finished. “Most importantly, I have to address my fans personally and directly: thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The two-hour show was billed as commercial-free, but in execution, what that meant was there were no commercials for products outside of Amazon as several of the streaming platform’s new offerings were promoted on the show. Before the event, ACM CEO Damon Whiteside said the Academy wanted to go “big” and be “a little aggressive” for its return to Las Vegas and its departure from network television for Amazon Prime. The ACM cast Parton alongside their new artist winners Allen and Barrett from the previous year as the show’s hosts. Parton served as the evening’s funny, benevolent fairy godmother as she joked about her mirrored gown looking like a disco ball and dedicated the awards show to Ukraine.
“I’d rather pass a kidney stone than be political,” she said. “But let’s pray for peace.”
Her comment inspired the Group of the Year winners Old Dominion to acknowledge Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This is our fifth year, and that’s no small thing,” said singer Matthew Ramsey. “We don’t take that for granted. (We’re) in this beautiful bubble here where every single person fought for their dreams, but there are people fighting for their lives. I’m so thankful Dolly said what she said.”
There appeared to be hundreds of empty seats in the stadium, which couldn’t be kept off-camera. However, the artists did their best to fill the cavernous space with gratitude, charisma and memorable performances.
Instead of singing one hit, Eric Church turned his performance into an epic medley of hits that span his career, including “Smoke a Little Smoke,” “Springsteen,” “Record Year” and a surprise Ashley McBryde duet on “Heart on Fire.” She returned later in the night to join Pearce on their duet “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” which was one of the night’s most compelling performances.
Walker Hayes walked through empty seats into the crowd during his “AA” and “Fancy Like” performance to greet his wife, Laney. Maren Morris played “Circles Around This Town” against the Las Vegas skyline for the song’s television debut. Parmalee, Blanco Brown and Brooke Eden teamed for a lively version of the hit “Just the Way” on the cowboy hat-shaped stage. And Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood brought some of the night’s most impressive production – a flying swing – for their performance of Single of the Year “If I Didn’t Love You.”
However, fans and viewers collectively held their breath as Aldean introduced Chris Stapleton’s performance. Aldean was on stage during the Route 91 shooting in 2017 that left 58 country music fans dead at a Las Vegas country music festival.
“It’s still hard to put something that senseless into words,” Aldean said, setting up Stapleton’s performance of his new song “Watch You Burn.”
The song was inspired by the tragedy and includes the lyrics: “You’re going to get your turn. The devil is going to watch you burn.” The singer is known for his mild manner and soulful, mighty voice, making the song’s authoritative tone even more powerful. A 16-piece Nashville choir joined him in the stadium to end the song.
The night’s other memorable performances include Kelly Clarkson’s cover of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which prompted Parton to declare she was backstage trying not to cry her eyelashes off. Kane Brown looked dapper in an emerald green suit and made sure his voice was front and center on “My Love Won’t Leave You Alone.” Breland and Thomas Rhett took Sin City to church with their “Praise the Lord.” And Duo of the Year winner Brothers Osborne pulled double duty with pix mob technology that lit up the audience for a technicolor “Skeletons.” They returned to the stage to close the show with Brittney Spencer on a cover of “These Boots are Made for Walkin.”