LOS ANGELES – Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert won big Sunday as Nashville’s biggest names took over Las Vegas for the 48th Academy of Country Music awards.
Bryan, 36, was overcome with emotion as Shania Twain presented him with the fan-voted entertainer of the year award at the climax of a three-hour nationally televised gala that he co-hosted with Blake Shelton.
“This is the defining moment of my life … and I will never take it for granted,” said the Georgia native, who’s just come off his first-ever headlining tour in support of his platinum-selling album “Tailgates and Tanlines.”
Lambert, 29, meanwhile made three increasingly emotional trips to the stage – twice for song of the year and best single for “Over You,” which she co-wrote with Shelton, 36, her husband, and a third time for female vocalist of the year.
“Thank you for accepting me as a songwriter, not just as a singer, because that means the world to me,” she told her Nashville peers in the cavernous auditorium of the MGM Grand hotel.
Quipped her supportive spouse: “I used to think I was a decent songwriter until I started hanging out with her.”
Equally humble was Jason Aldean, 36, when he collected his award for male vocalist of the year, saying: “I’m glad to get to sing for a living, and I’m glad you guys dig it.”
Eric Church won album of the year for “Chief” and Little Big Town collected the best vocal group laurel. Florida Georgia Line took home the prize for best new artist and Thompson Square was honored for best vocal duo.
Going home empty-handed were Taylor Swift, entertainer of the year for the past two years and a nominee in five categories this time around, despite the international sales success of her country-pop crossover album “Red.”
Putting crowd-pleasing performances ahead of the prizes, with a lot of commercial breaks in between, Sunday’s spectacular ran 49 minutes before the first award was given out.
Highlights included country veterans Garth Brooks and George Strait teaming up for the first time to sing “This is Where the Cowboy Rides Away” in honor of late television impresario Dick Clark, a driving force behind the awards.
Kenny Chesney in a sleeveless T-shirt got the front rows waving flags with the skull-and-bones logo of his No Shoes Nation tour, while Swift joined Tim McGraw and Keith Urban for an epic performance of McGraw’s “Highway Don’t Care.”
The Academy of Country Music awards, first held in 1966, are a springtime West Coast counterpart of the Country Music Association awards held every fall in Nashville since 1967.