CMT Music Awards: Best and worst of the broadcast

Best Overall Performance Willie Nelson assembled an all-star crew to help him sing the hilarious “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” The ponytailed veteran was joined by Darius Rucker, Toby Keith, Zac Brown, and Jamey Johnson, all of whom looked delighted to be sharing the stage with the legendary toker.

(Honorable Mention Little Big Town, who always sound fantastic, delivered a fun rendition of their summer single “Pontoon.” On a night when A-listers like Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band, and Luke Bryan delivered competent but forgettable performances, theirs might legitimately have earned the quartet a few new listeners. Also, props to Kellie Pickler for her “Motorboatin’” introduction.)

Best Use of Dramatic Silence YES YES YES to the a cappella bridge of Carrie Underwood’s killer single “Good Girl.” The glitzy diva, who took home the night’s biggest prize, killed the growly anthem — last night was certainly the best I’ve ever heard her sing it — but the peak of the performance was when all the music and lights in the house cut out (except for the audience’s twinkling cell-phone screens) and she ripped into the rocker full-force.

Worst Hosts When it comes to country awards hosting hierarchy, the list goes: 1. Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley 2. Blake Shelton and Reba McEntire 3. Whoever hosted that month’s country awards show and 4. Toby Keith and Kristen Bell. Maybe it was their age difference (he’s 50, she’s 31), or the fact that he seemed to have imbibed heavily from that red solo cup, but the pair had virtually no chemistry.  Their banter was awkward and often delayed by the raucous crowd’s cheering. (I’ll never understand why televised award show producers think that viewers want to see the room get hyped — we don’t!). It didn’t help that the hosts’opening taped segment, which featured cameos from Bon Jovi, Matthew McConaughey, Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney, felt as lifeless as every skin cell on Mitt’s spray-tanned face.

Worst Camera Technique The hosts and presenters weren’t the only people too focused on the crowd last night. The very production of the show often placed the at-home viewer at the same perspective as a crowd viewer. During performances, the show kept cutting to shots of excited spectators snapping iPhone pictures or filming the celebrities. Why watch a performance through a stranger’s smart phone when I’m already watching it on my hi-def TV?

Best Pre-commercial Small-Stage Performance “Something ‘Bout a Truck” singer Kip Moore had the strongest of the short mini-performances last night. He looked great, sounded great, and clearly commanded the crowd, all of whom were singing along to his number-one hit. This guy is the real deal. With a great album, an opening spot on Eric Church’s fall tour, and terrific showings like this, Moore is endearing himself to Nashville like a pro. (And further justified why we named him one of our breakout stars of summer.)

Worst Pre-commercial Small-Stage Performance Look, I’m a sucker for rising star Jana Kramer’s winsome single “Why Ya Wanna,” but she sounded thin and breathy as she delivered the track. Of course, there were some sound issues last night, so I’m going to give Kramer, who looked beautiful, the benefit of the doubt.

Worst Running Theme of the Night We get it, CMT — you like drinking! But seriously, it was like every presenter was pledging the CMT fraternity (I know there isn’t a C in the Greek alphabet — just go with it) and felt forced to tell the audience how it was time to get reaaaaalllly drunk — uh, not on Wednesday night, guys. All the drinking talk lowered the caliber of awards show, which was already stereotyping itself with constant jokes about how redneck the whole event was. We’re smarter than this, CMT (and so are you).

Best Reaction to Winning an Award Everything about Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s response to winning the first award of the night, Collaborative Video of the Year, for their duet “Remind Me” was delightful. Paisley, whose wife couldn’t be at the show, instantly hugged Underwood’s husband, hockey player Mike Fisher, after hearing his name called. Fisher, hilariously, also chose to hug Paisley before his own wife. Still, Underwood did get her embrace, and she left her man holding her sparkly clutch when she took the stage, where she ribbed the two guys about it. ”Did you see my husband hug him first?” she joked. Take note, Toby and Kristen; this is what hosting chemistry looks like.

Best Acceptance Speech Luke Bryan knows he’s a heartthrob — he was game for that bit when Bell plopped herself between him and Jake Owen — and he created a mini-war in the audience when he had presenter Tom Arnold “pull off” a pair of his camouflage boxers and toss them into the audience. (It would have been awesome to see the camera to linger for a moment longer on the Tug-o-War that was clearly breaking out over Bryan’s underwear.) The “Drunk On You” singer also sweetly thanked his wife — who is a total bombshell, by the way — for letting him film the steamy video for that single. Endearing all around.

Worst Hair I’ve already said my piece about this. I will refrain.

Best Hair Good move, Shawna Thompson. You’ve ditched the streaks!

Best Showing by an American Idol (Other Than Carrie Underwood) Let me list the Idolalums that appeared on stage at last night’s show: Underwood, Lauren Alaina, Casey James, Scotty McCreery, Jordin Sparks, Kellie Pickler, Colton Dixon, Skylar Laine. Yowza!

Lauren Alaina, who has polished her image admirably since last year, had the awful job of monitoring the Twitter Tracker — almost as insufferable as The Voice‘s social media room — but her fellow season 10 contestant Scotty McCreery had the best showing of the night. Not only did he win “Breakthrough Video of the Year,” but the jean-jacketed, platinum-selling newbie performed his new single “Water Tower Town” with charismatic confidence.

Best/Worst/Undecided Performance The show-opening mashup of Lady Antebellum’s “Own the Night” and Hot Chelle Rae’s “Tonight” never quite clicked for me, but I appreciated the ambition — and it certainly worked better than the Rascal Flatts/Journey show closer. It just felt so random to take a year-old pop hit and mash it up with a middling Lady Antebellum single. That being said, it was a bouncy, upbeat-enough way to start the program.

What did you think of the show?

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