Move over, Tim and Faith. There's a new golden couple in town, and their names are Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton.
On her 27th birthday, Lambert picked up three trophies at "The 44th Annual CMA Awards," while her fiance walked away with two. They're also the first real-life couple to be crowned female and male vocalist of the year since Faith Hill and Tim McGraw in 2000.
"I'm so excited for Blake. I can't even be excited for myself, and I mean that," Lambert gushed to CNN after the show, her blue eyes misting over. "He is an amazing singer. I hear him on records, I hear him in the shower. I hear him all the time and I know how great he is. It's about time people noticed."
There's a good reason Gwyneth Paltrow gave a powerhouse performance at the Country Music Association Awards: She was channeling her inner Sasha Fierce by imitating Beyoncé.
Paltrow, who sang the title track to her upcoming movie "Country Strong" at the November 10 event in Nashville, tells Access Hollywood that she prepared for the gig by asking for advice from singer friends, including Faith Hill and Beyoncé.
More importantly, says the 38-year-old Oscar winner, “I studied Beyoncé a lot and her concerts for her kind of confidence."
During the last few days, I've received a number of calls and emails from colleagues in Nashville, frustrated with how the catastrophic flooding in their city has not seemed to receive the amount of attention it deserves on many national news outlets – including CNN.
My friend Heather left an impassioned message from her cell, as she pulled moldy siding off a pal's home in Bellevue. Another friend, Jules, opened up her vast rolodex for contacts we needed. And Schatzi Hageman, publicist for Trace Adkins, apologized for delays in responding to emails – never using the fact that her office was uninhabitable as an excuse.
We caught up with Trace himself in Southern California, where he was shooting a music video for his new single, "This Ain't No Love Song." The Louisiana native was defiant about his adopted city's tenacity, and didn't think the national media was obligated to shine a bigger spotlight. "I don't feel slighted in any way," he said. "I'm not worried about it, because I think that Nashville – as a community and as a city – we'll cowboy up, and we'll take care of this situation, and we'll fix what needs to be fixed, and we'll carry on. We don't need everybody in the country to come run to our aid."
Indeed, Tennessee is living up to its moniker as "The Volunteer State." As Vince Gill headlined a telethon on the local NBC affiliate, raising more than $1.7 million, a flurry of press releases hit my BlackBerry:
At 73, Kristofferson still has "It" - the charismatic swagger, the blue eyes that see the world with unflinching truth, the ability to tell gritty, haunting stories set to song, like "Sunday Mornin' Coming Down, " "Help Me Make it Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee."
"You just look at him, and it's the lines on his face that tell stories. It's his hair. I know it sounds odd, but the guy's revered in a way that's usually in the same sentence with people like Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson," said Owen, who'd just introduced himself to "Mr. Kristofferson" a couple of minutes earlier.
Heidi Newfield added, "When he did 'A Star is Born,' he had women taking cold showers all over the world. He had a charisma, and sexy just oozes all over him. But you add this with the fact that he's a Rhodes scholar, and he chose this path rather than becoming a professor (Kristofferson turned down a teaching post at West Point to become a janitor in Nashville) - I think we're all the better for it."
Kristofferson broke down and sobbed for a moment, as Vince Gill, Patti Griffin and longtime pal Willie Nelson sang a touching trio of some of his best-loved songs. "The great thing about being a songwriter is you can hear your baby interpreted by so many people that have creative talents vocally that I don't have," he confided to us earlier on the red carpet. He laughed when reminded of how he came to Nashville in 1965, and gave up a promising career in academia for an uncertain future in the music biz. "My mother thought I was crazy," he admits. "I never doubted once that I was in the right place."
The superstar country duo - who call it quits after a farewell tour in 2010 - were deep in rehearsals at the Sommet Center for Wednesday night's "43rd Annual CMA Awards."
Among those boogieing down from the audience - Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush from Sugarland, the pair who finally ended B & D's 14-year winning streak as CMA "Duo of the Year." It'll be a showdown between Sugarland and Brooks and Dunn once again, with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn the sentimental favorites among some of the voters.
"If they come back for the reunion tour next year, there will be some you-know-what to pay," teased Nettles. Bush added, "If they come back as Dunn and Brooks - it's over! We're taking the gloves off!," he laughed.
As Jason Aldean stepped into the spotlight to rehearse his recent number one single, "Big Green Tractor," Darius Rucker admired his performance from the back of the room. "Man, listen to his voice!," he marveled. "He sounds as good live as he does on the record!"
Rucker is up for two awards - "Best New Artist" and "Male Vocalist of the Year."
We spoke backstage after last year's ceremony, just as the Hootie and the Blowfish frontman was reinventing himself as a solo country artist. Barack Obama had just been elected President of the United States, and Rucker was reflecting on how an African-American could become of the Leader of the Free World, as well as a country singer. "Just shows how far we've come," he said. "We're prime examples of how you can be whatever you want to be in this country."
Conversation turned toward the hotly-contested category of "Entertainer of the Year" - where Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait and Keith Urban will square off against 19-year-old country-pop sensation Taylor Swift. "It's up for grabs, but I think it could be Taylor's year," predicted Rucker. "She's just so big right now. I think she's transcending country music, and she'll probably take it." Aldean concurred when he got off the stage. "If you looks at numbers - nobody's had a bigger year than her. I don't know how you can discredit that," he said.
In a press release yesterday, the Country Music Association announced that Swift will be the opening performer on Wednesday's telecast. With any luck, she'll also be closing the night with a win for "Entertainer of the Year."
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