On Wednesday night, presenter Lionel Richie paused dramatically before he announced entertainer of the year, the show’s biggest prize. In the audience, someone yelled “Chris Stapleton!” Everyone laughed, because Stapleton is an industry favorite, and would probably win.
But then Richie opened the envelope and read the name: “Keith Urban!”
No one looked more stunned than Urban, who is approaching the fourth decade of his career, and last won entertainer of the year in 2005. Urban immediately became emotional and wiped his eyes as he approached the microphone in disbelief.
“Thank you so much . . . I am shocked beyond shocked,” he told the cheering crowd. He gave a shout-out to his wife, Nicole Kidman (“Baby girl, I love you so much”), and their two daughters, and wrapped up by thanking his fans: “I just feel very, very blessed, very grateful that I get to do what I do. . . God bless country music.”
Stapleton, of course, didn’t seem to mind the loss. He walked away with three awards, the most of anyone: male vocalist and song and single of the year for the powerful “Broken Halos.” Urban was also up against Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Kenny Chesney, who was originally scheduled to perform but missed the show because of a death in his family.
Elsewhere, Carrie Underwood won female vocalist. Brothers Osborne were named vocal duo of the year for the third time in a row and provided the night’s only political quip. (“If this was in Florida, there would definitely be a recount.”) Old Dominion nabbed vocal group, ending Little Big Town’s six-year winning streak. Rookie hitmaker Luke Combs won new artist. In a surprise victory, Kacey Musgraves beat out Stapleton, Urban, Thomas Rhett and Dierks Bentley for the album of the year prize.
The three-hour telecast opened with a tribute to the victims of last week’s mass shooting at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., as the producers showed all 12 names on the screen.
“Tonight’s show is lovingly dedicated to the 12 individuals whom we lost far too soon just a week ago tonight at the Borderline in Thousand Oaks, California,” said Garth Brooks, before he led the audience in a moment of silence. “Tonight, let’s celebrate their lives, let the music unite us with love and their enduring memory.”
A complete list of winners and nominees is below-
Entertainer of the Year
Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
Producers: Musgraves, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian
Song of the Year
Songwriters: Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson
Single of the Year
Producers: Chris Stapleton and Dave Cobb
Engineer: Vance Powell
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
David Lee Murphy with Kenny Chesney
Director: TK McKamy