It was a night of surprises at the CMA Awards, from the stunning announcement that one of country music's just divorced, reigning superstars had hooked up with one of the world's biggest pop stars, to the night's big winner, a singer previously unknown to most people outside of country music circles.
So while Luke Bryan took home the biggest award of the night for Entertainer of the Year, and Miranda Lambert won Female Vocalist of the Year for the sixth time in a row, it was country newcomer Chris Stapleton who stole the show, winning three awards, including male vocalist of the year.
Both Lambert and Bryan congratulated Stapleton in their acceptance speeches. Stapleton looked dumbfounded.
"This is unbelievable. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to think," said the country crooner, who has written for Kenny Chesney, George Strait and others. "Thank you so much for the love."
Earlier in the show, Stapleton, from Kentucky, sang alongside Justin Timberlake, who grew up in Memphis, and tapped into his country roots with a show-stopping performance. They strummed their guitars while singing "Tennessee Whiskey" and followed that with Timberlake's tune, "Drink You Away."
Little Big Town won the first award of the night for Single of the Year for their No. 1 hit, "Girl Crush,” – one of the year’s most popular and semi-controversial songs.
"This is about being brave and being bold," Karen Fairchild said onstage with her group. "Country radio, thanks for having the guts for playing it."
The foursome, along with Church, walked into the arena as the most-nominated act with five. They lost Music Video of the Year to Maddie & Tae's "Girl in a Country Song" and Musical Event of the Year to Church.
"Girl Crush," which has sold 1.8 million tracks and topped Billboard's Hot Country songs chart, is about a woman's obsession with a woman dating the man she loves. The song was pulled from some country radio stations because of its lyrics. It opens with the line: "I've got a girl crush, hate to admit it but ..."
In true CMA Awards style, nothing was off limits, as returning co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley kicked off the biggest night in country music with a series of jokes that had some audience members squirming in their seats.
After a weak opening video skit where the show attempted to marry country music with “Star Wars,” Underwood and Paisley sang a song where they addressed the elephant in the room: Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert’s divorce.
“This year there have been so many big changes,” Underwood said from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Paisley commented, “You know what else is ‘cray cray?’ How many couples broke up this year -- from Ben Affleck to Jennifer Garner, Halle Berry and what’s his name?”
Underwood acknowledged that they “can’t ignore the break up that really rocked our world. The one that’s on everybody’s mind. Two people in this very room that we all know and love. Splitsville.”
The cameras then turned to Kermit and Miss Piggy who were sitting a row apart from each other. The audience laughed but it was clearly a tension-filled moment as Shelton announced hours earlier he is dating fellow “The Voice” coach Gwen Stefani.
Paisley quickly added, “On a completely unrelated topic, howdy Blake. Carrie, have you heard that duet that Blake did with Ashley Madison?”
Underwood corrected her co-star, telling him that Shelton actually sang with fellow country star and Lambert’s best pal Ashley Monroe. The co-hosts then sang a song about the Ashley Madison scandal ending with a slight at former TLC star Josh Duggar who admitted to cheating on his wife on the site.
Paisley and Underwood also sang about Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn Jenner and how Donald Trump is doing in the polls.
“Bruce Jenner’s a babe now,” Paisley crooned. Carrie answered, “Hey now!” Paisley quipped, “And Trump’s leading in the polls.”
Later in the show, Paisley said they reached out to all of the presidential candidates to come on the show but they were turned down. “We emailed Hillary Clinton but all we got was an autoreply from the Justice Department,” Underwood said.
Jokes aside, the show also featured duets: Eric Church and Hank Williams Jr. performed "Are You Ready for the Country" and John Mellencamp and Keith Urban strummed their guitars during "Pink Houses."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.