NASHVILLE — The big winner at the 2010 CMA Awards wasn’t a country star at all, but an Oscar-winning actress. Gwyneth Paltrow’s much-touted “country music debut” garnered the clear-voiced alto a standing ovation from the industry-heavy audience at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Singing the title theme to her upcoming film Country Strong, backed by three-time entertainer of the year Vince Gill on harmonies and electric guitar, the response backstage was universally positive.
“AWE-SOME,” declared Charles Kelley, lead singer for CMA vocal group and single of the year winners Lady Antebellum. “And what an awesome stamp of credibility to have Vince Gill up there with you.” The applause was echoed by Miranda Lambert, herself a big winner on Wednesday night, who agreed, “She’s a great singer! I never got to meet her, but she did a great job -- and seems really genuine.”
For her part, after joking about drinking a Guinness before the telecast, Paltrow started visibly nervous, but settled into a stunning performance on a night when many of the biggest stars were plagued with pitch problems -- with the added pressure of being saved until last.
While Miranda Lambert’s three awards -- female vocalist of the year, album of the year plus song of the year for her No. 1 hit “The House That Built Me” -- was one of the night’s big stories, it also marked the first time in a decade when a real-life couple, Lambert and fiance Blake Shelton, were named reigning male and female vocalist of the year (the last to take the double title was Tim McGraw and Faith Hill).
But for all the euphoria in the photo area backstage, Shelton was quick to caution, they were not campaigning to be the Ken and Barbie of country. “Tim and Faith never set out to be the country couple,” Shelton said. “They found out they were attracted to each other … and [making country music] is what they happen to do. It’s odd that we’re peaking at the same time, but you know, that’s what it is …" Said Lambert after the show: “I couldn’t even be happy after winning Album of the Year until now … Seeing his face really meant so much."
Shelton, whose first CMA win came earlier in the evening for Vocal Event with Trace Adkins for “Hillbilly Bone," said, “I’m damn sure gonna do some damage to my liver!" A known quipster, he turned more philosophical a moment later. “I’ve been sitting out in that audience for 11 years, and I’ve watched three different groups of popular artists come and go – and I was never one of them," he said. "I know this stuff is political. It’s a hard thing to accomplish in this town, to get people on your side. But I don’t think there’s people who know more about country music, who love it more than I do.”
For Brad Paisley, who lost his touring sets, production and many instruments in this spring’s Nashville floods, rallying in the wake of that disaster made his Entertainer of the Year Award -- which he finally won after six nominations -- mean even more. "We had two, three weeks to rebuild," he told reporters. "One day after the flood, we had almost nothing. But [once the tour started], nothing really went wrong. No dates were cancelled due to weather, no malfunctions or anything. I owe a lot to my crew. They take pride in what we do, so if I was to ever win, this was the year -- for them."
It was also a night of new faces to Nashville. Lady Antebellum, who’ve emerged as legitimate headliners and have the one of the year's biggest selling albums in any genre, picked up Single of the Year for their crossover hit “Need You Now,” while the emergent Zac Brown Band picked up New Artist. Paisley addressed the quick turnover of artists. "The world moves faster now," he said. "The internet has cut everything in half. You can’t have a two-year record any more; you have two singles and you’re on to the next."
Bucking that trend is Loretta Lynn, who was honored with a tribute segment introduced by Academy Award winner Sissy Spacek, the actress that played her in the 1980 Oscar-winning film Coal Miner’s Daughter. Backstage, their conviviality was evident when recalling the casting process. "I knew the one to pick," Lynn declared. "She did a great job." Spacek's response: "I'm her evil twin," to which Lynn cracked, "You mean I’m the good one?!" At 76 years old, the first lady of country music still doesn't miss a beat.