LAS VEGAS – Brooks & Dunn, the most honored artists in the history of the Academy of Country Music's awards show, picked up a record 20th and 21st trophies Tuesday night as country music's elite gathered to perform and compete for honors.
Newcomer Carrie Underwood, last year's "American Idol" winner, was also a double winner, taking top new female vocalist and single of the year awards. The latter was for "Jesus Take the Wheel," a song she performed on the show.
"I wouldn't be here if God hadn't opened all the doors for me," she told the audience.
Kenny Chesney captured the entertainer of the year award.
Brooks & Dunn claimed the first award handed out Tuesday, song of the year for "Believe," a gospel-tinged tune written by Craig Wiseman, co-writer of the 2005 song of the year, "Live Like You Were Dying."
"It's always fun to be a part of something so strong and so spiritual," said Kix Brooks, who also shared the top vocal duo award with Dunn.
Brad Paisley, who had a leading six nominations going into the show, got the award he said he wanted, album of the year for "Time Well Wasted." He also shared vocal event of the year honors with Dolly Parton for "When I Get Where I'm Going."
Keith Urban was top male vocalist for a second year and Sara Evans, up against Underwood, Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson and Lee Ann Womack, captured her first ACM award, for top female vocalist.
"I've waited for this my whole life," she said.
Jason Aldean, whose song "Why" is No. 1 this week, was named top new male vocalist and Sugarland was honored as top new duo or vocal group.
The three-hour show was as much about music as awards, however, and Trace Adkins provided one of the evening's musical highlights. Dressed all in black — from his cowboy hat to his leather suit — Adkins added a Las Vegas touch to the program as he performed his song "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" while surrounded by shimmying showgirls.
Reba McEntire, hosting the show for an eighth time, also took a shot at country music's newest outlaws, the Dixie Chicks.
"I don't know why I was so nervous about hosting this show this year," she said. "If the Dixie Chicks can sing with their foot in their mouths, surely I can host this sucker."
The Chicks, criticized in country circles when Natalie Maines told an audience in 2003, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," are striking back at their critics in their new single, "Not Ready to Make Nice."
Earlier in the show, Wilson paid tribute to more traditional country themes, including the nation's soldiers, working men and the Bible, in the song "Politically Incorrect."
This year's 41st annual ceremony, at the MGM Grand, was the third to be held in Las Vegas after it moved from Los Angeles. Airing on CBS, it went up against part one of the two-part "American Idol" finale on Fox.
The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Tuesday that the academy wants to move the awards show to April to escape the conflict with "Idol," TV's top-rated show. The size of the "Idol" audience has dwarfed that for the awards show the past three years.
Performers Tuesday included Paisley, Underwood, Urban, Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Dierks Bentley, Montgomery Gentry, Big & Rich and McBride.
There was also a medley of songs honoring the late Buck Owens. The creator of country music's Bakersfield Sound died in March.
Vince Gill received the Home Depot Humanitarian Award for his community service and charitable giving of his time and talent — a trophy and a playground built in a city of his choice. He said that probably would be New Orleans. Previous winners include McEntire, McBride, Lonestar and Neal McCoy.
Awards announced before the broadcast included: producer, Buddy Cannon; on-air personality — national, Blair Garner; on-air personality — major market, Gerry House; on-air personality, medium market — Scott Innes; on-air personality, small market — Becky Austin and Brad Austin; radio station, major market — WFMS-FM; radio station, medium market — WUSY-FM; radio station, small market (tie) — WGSQ-FM, WYCT-FM; bass player, Michael Rhodes; fiddle player, Jonathan Yudkin; guitar player, Pat Buchanan; percussionist-drum, Shannon Forrest; piano-keyboard, Mike Rojas; specialty instrument, Bryan Sutton; steel guitar, Paul Franklin.
The 3,000 members of the academy select the nominees and winners of the awards.