7:50 p.m.: Ten minutes until the kick off of the 43rd Country Music Association Awards-- Nashville's equivalent of the Grammys. While Taylor Swift is up for a number of awards, we think she's safe from Kanye West's clutches in Music City. But is she safe from Kenny Chesney? The hottest contest of the night is the big one: entertainer of the year. Will Swift rob Chesney of his opportunity to break his tie with Garth Brooks and become the first artist to win five entertainer of the year trophies?
8 p.m.: The show opens with Taylor Swift talking to Nancy O'Dell in her often discussed comment about how she writes about boys who have done her wrong in her songs. Now she's singing "Forever & Always," which we believe is about Joe Jonas. Now she's tossing furniture and sliding down a pole in a fireman, not a stripper, way. It's meant to be high-energy and cutting edge, but it's a really weak song and she doesn't sound good. But the crowd, those polite southerners, seem to love it.
8:05 p.m.: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood return for their second stint as co-hosts. Underwood is sitting pretty: She has the No. 1 album in the land today. The pair are doing a spoof of "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," as "Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be Kanye.. " We knew it was coming. We just hope he's not a running joke. By the way, Underwood just informed us that, at 19, Swift is the youngest artist ever nominated for entertainer of the year. The theme of using classic songs to parody current country events continues: now Paisley and Underwood are singing "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" about Brooks and Dunn splitting up. They sing that everyone's sad, but Sugarland. Many a truth is said in jest. It's actually a very cute and funny opening...so much better the VMAs and many other shows.
8:10 p.m.: Kid Rock is presenting single of the year. My bet is "In Color" by Jamey Johnson (I'll throw in predictions since I forgot to do them.) Well, I'm wrong, it's "I Run To You" sung by Lady Antebellum, which, is, actually, my favorite of the five. I love that song. Nice, but a slightly surprising choice.
8:17 p.m. Now Brad and Carrie turned LeAnn Rimes' "Blue" into "Swine Flu." She's on outfit No. 2. They have such an easy going chemistry. Really, really nice. By the way, we're thinking it's odd that Swift had no song nominated for single of the year. Hmmm. Darius Rucker, aka Hootie, is now performing "It's Alright." He's walking through the audience... "Yep, I'm still the only African-American here," we can almost imagine him thinking. Seriously, his country success has been tremendous--for one reason: unlike other pop artists who have tried to cross over (yes, we're talking about you, Jessica Simpson) he understands and respects the genre and the music is only a shade more country than what Hootie & the Blowfish performed.
8:22 p.m.: Kellie Pickler and Jake Owen are presenting song of the year. First off, when did she go brunette? I'm going with "In Color" for this one since it goes to the songwriter. Although Brad Paisley's "Then" could take it... There you go.. it's "In Color." Jamey Johnson still looks like a homeless person who wandered into the Sommet Center and his co-writer James Otto is HUGE. He looks like a linebacker and is dwarfing Johnson. "I never thought y'all let me come to stuff like this," Johnson just said--and we don't think he's kidding.
8:26 p.m.: Miranda Lambert is performing "White Liar." Yeah, here's someone who can really sing... Lambert's guitarist is still rocking that mohawk. Dude, there's nothing worse than someone who thinks they're being cutting edge, when they're really just a throwback to three decades ago...at this point, a mullet would be a hipper call.
8:33 p.m.: Brad Paisley is singing "Welcome to the Future," but his microphone is turned way down. His vocals are so low, you'd think he was Britney Spears or something. That's a shame because he can really sing. And this song's lyrics are worth hearing. Zac Brown Band is now performing Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went Down to Georgia." You know what would be cool? If Charlie Daniels came out and joined them. The crowd looks bored to death, despite some really excellent fiddle work going on on stage. ZBB has already lost two awards tonight. Tough night for them. And no Charlie...
8:48 p.m.: George Strait, one of the nominees for entertainer of the year (who first won the award in 1989) is singing "Twang." Here are my very quick thoughts on Strait-- admire him, but since when is someone who never moves more than six inches from the microphone and barely talks to the audience an "entertainer?" I'm not saying he's not a great singer--that's undeniable. King George is awesome. He's the gold standard of country music, but a scintillating performer he's not... Don't shoot me.
8:52 p.m.: Lady A, big winners for single of the year, are singing their new hit, "Need You Now." It's a booty call dressed up as a ballad. We love Charles Kelley's voice. It's snowing on stage.
8:55 p.m.: Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn are presenting and she's making a fool of herself. She's raving about what a great show this is... what did she expect? Pick up trucks and haybales? As a longtime fan of country music, i can't stand it when someone from LA or NY comes out and acts shocked, SHOCKED, that the CMAs is actually a professional show. Don't get me started on that. Okay, i was so overheated, I didn't put down my prediction for vocal group of the year: Lady Antebellum just won. They are having quite the night. They beat Rascal Flatts-- is this the official passing of the guard?
9:03 p.m.: Carrie Underwood is performing "Cowboy Casanova" in hot pants. The sound, like with Paisley, is horrible. you can hardly hear her vocals--while the rest of the band is too loud. However, given her hotter than hot get-up (basically the same as she wears in the video), no male is noticing that she even sings. I'll give you one thing-- that girl has certainly come out of her shell since "American Idol."
9:07 p.m.: Naomi and Wynonna Judd are presenting best new artist, but first, they're showing footage of when they won the award 25 years ago. Naomi looks completely plastic she's had so much surgery, although she's walking a little slow, so we don't want to say anything in case her health issues are kicking back up. This is a toss up between Darius Rucker and Zac Brown Band: we say Darius Rucker, simply because ZBB is not winning a thing tonight. Rucker it is... I don't know if someone who won the Grammy for best new artist 14 years ago or so should be eligible, but I guess he is a new artist to the country format. Rucker just thanked country radio: "You took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, South Carolina and God bless you for that." We think that's code. He's the first African-American artist to win best new artist, we think. The other thing is that Rucker approached country with complete humility and like an absolute beginner--not someone who had been a superstar in another format. That humility--and his great voice-- served him very very well. Still, I'm feeling a little bad for Zac Brown Band.
9:13 p.m.: Daughtry and Vince Gill, who hosted the show for decades and decades (we're only slightly exaggerating) are performing "Tennessee Line" acoustically. Nice, but nothing special. Audience shot of Miranda Lambert and her boyfriend, Blake Shelton, looking bored. Cut to Nicole Kidman, smiling--she's a good actress.
9:21 p.m.: Lil Jimmy Dickens just interrupted Brad Paisley a la Kayne West to protest Paisley praising his video for "Welcome to the Future" to proclaim that Swift should have won. It falls totally flat. Let it go, people or I'm going to sic the guy with the mohawk on you. Keith Urban is now performing "'Til Summer Comes Around." Great guitar licks, but this is two slow songs in a row. I'm starting to drift off. Must. Have. Caffeine.
9:26 p.m.: Tim McGraw returns to the CMAs after a few year absence. Uh oh-- he completely skipped the first line of "Southern Voice." The lyrics in the background are in the same style as Swift's opening number. Are they trying to save money? Was there a two-for-one sale on ugly red, black and white graphics? (A side note--I just looked up the lyrics to 'Southern Voice' to make sure he had left off the first line. The proper second line line is "Chuck Berry twanged it/Will Faulkner wrote it," but the site I went to has "Chuck Berry twanged it/Will Ferrell wrote it." I LOVE the internets... )
9:36 p.m.: Underwood just saluted some members of the military--fitting since it's Veterans Day. Sugarland is now performing "Keep You," another ballad. Jennifer Nettles knows how to play to the camera like few performers do. It's another torchy song. i'm sure they're hoping they have another "Stay" on their hands, but it doesn't have that kind of resonance.
9:42 p.m. Robin Robertsand Randy Hauser are presenting album of the year. My pick is Swift's "Fearless," although my fave of the bunch is Paisley's "American Saturday Night." The winner is "Fearless." This bodes well for her taking home entertainer of the year. She's is thanking the fans-- she always remembers that, which is nice.
9:52 p.m.: Brooks & Dunn are ostensibly performing at their last CMAs--that is until a few years from now when they decide to come out oretirement and reunite. Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top is playing with them. I will not miss Ronnie Dunn's shaggy haircut, which has not changed--or moved-- in 15 years. I think he and Kix Brooks are the Steven Tyler/ Joe Perry of country music. I bet they don't talk at all between tours. And by the looks of it, they don't talk during shows. The audience just gave them a large ovation and they never even acknowledged each other. Man, they couldn't even muster a half-hearted, awkward hug like Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon eventually learned to do.
9:56 p.m.: Kid Rock, who's getting a lot of love from the CMAs, is duetting with Jamey Johnson on Johnson's "Between Jennings and Jones." I wonder how many people watching have no idea who they're singing about. They're getting a standing ovation. Jesus-- you mention Waylon Jennings and George Jones and people go crazy, although George Jones can't get arrested on country radio these days... Sheesh. Now I'm just getting cranky.
9:59 p.m.: Julianne Hough and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are presenting vocal duo of the year. it's going to go to Sugarland-- no last minute sentimentality for Brooks & Dunn. Yep. Sugarland takes it for the third year in a row. Awkward moment. Jennifer Nettles just offered to have Brooks & Dunn come up and say something. They waved her off, looking horrified. I know it was meant to be gracious, but it was a misguided bad call. Brooks & Dunn couldn't win by going up there. As usual, Nettles' partner, Kristian Bush, doesn't get to say anything but 'thanks.' To 95% of folks Sugarland is Jennifer Nettles and some bearded guy who's always in a fedora.
10:07 p.m.: Taylor Swift is now singing "Fifteen" surrounded by young girls, none of whom seem 15, holding signs like "I Heart Taylor." Some of them know the words, but there are plenty who don't and it just seems a little forced, although she sounds much better than she did during the show's opener. Does she deserve two performance slots? Does it matter? It's all about ratings and Swift brings in ratings. Not only that, she brings in young eyeballs and that's Job No. 1. Nice segue to LeAnn Rimes who, the announcer tells us, won her first CMA award at 15. She's presenting male vocalist of the year, that little hussy (we kid). We say it's Brad Paisley. Right.
10:20 p.m.: Jason Aldean is singing "Big Green Tractor." We know it went to No. 1, but my God, it's a boring song. Aldean is on an independent label though and we love that indies now have a significant place in mainsteam country now--and on radio. For so long they didn't. Martina McBride is singing "I was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" in a salute to Barbara Mandrell. This show is beginning to seem endless. George Strait just strolled out to join in the salute, seemingly a surprise. Mandrell looks amazing. She doesn't age.I'm not real sure why out of the three folks inducted into the Hall of Fame this year--she was joined by Roy Clark and Charlie McCoy--she's the only one getting honored tonight. The CMAs only present 11 awards. That's a lot to stretch out over three hours. Like all music awards shows, it's now all about the performances, not the awards. I'm just trying to run down the clock at this point. With only 11 awards, they still saw fit to not present best video on air-- that went to Swift.
10:34 p.m.: Reba McEntire's singing "Consider Me Gone." She's in leather pants. She looks great, but we're starting to think she's trying a little too hard to look like she's 25. She seems very, very aware that she is competing with the Taylor Swifts and Carrie Underwoods of this world. Billy Currington is now performing "People are Crazy." Confession time: I have been on the fence about this song for months. I can't decide if the "God is great, beer is good and people are crazy" is one of the best lines ever written or one of the worst.
10:39: Female vocalist of the year, presented by a somewhat stumbling Kris Kristofferson and Lee Ann Womack, who then had to say to Kristofferson that he was a "silver-tongued devil." The winner is Taylor Swift. "I want to thank every single person tonight for not running up on stage during my speech." Okay, it's fine when she does it. To even pretend that Swift can sing better than Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire or Martina McBride is crazy. Have you heard her, people?
10:46 p.m.: Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews are singing their current country radio hit, "I'm Alive." It's a slow grower of a song. I've never been a Chesney fan, but i respect his work ethic--Yikes-- he can not hit these high notes and he's got nothing but an acoustic guitar to hide behind. Again, like Brooks & Dunn, they barely acknowledge each other after the song. At least they give each other a brief nod and quick hand shake of sorts. As a bumper leading to commercial, a voice over announces that the musical event of the year award goes to Brad Paisley and Keith Urban for "Start a Band." That means only nine of the 11 awards are presented on air. That's THREE an hour. Really? i predict in a few years that we'll have a three-hour show and the only award they will give out will be entertainer of the year. All the rest will be announced as we go into a commercial break.
10: 53 p.m.: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are presenting entertainer of the year. This means it's definitely going to Swift: Hill is her favorite singer and one of her first hits was "Tim McGraw." Hill looks like she spent five minutes getting ready. Swift shoots and scores. In a very classy move, the first person to hug her is Kenny Chesney. She's crying. "I'll never forget this moment because everything I've ever wanted... has just happened to me," she says. Swift just called up her band on stage and had a group hug and then unintentionally delivered the dagger: "Everyone else in this category let me open up for them this year." She's the youngest person to win entertainer of the year and one of the few females to take home the trophy. If it were any other 19 year old, we'd expect them to be in rehab within five years, but not Swift. In her own way, she's like Lady GaGa in that she is 100%, in an almost preternatural fashion, focused on her career. We predict this is her first of many entertainer of the year awards.
11 p.m.: The show's a wrap. Well done, but it could really stand to be two hours instead of three. Sadly, brevity is only appreciated in acceptance speeches, not length of award shows. The CMAs started strong, but sagged and then dragged. Our overall grade: B-
To check out a gallery of all some of the big music stars and performances including Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and more, click here.
What did you think of the CMA's? Share your thoughts below.