In a room full of A-listers like Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan, songwriter Chris Stapleton was the clear VIP at the 2015 Country Music Association Awards Wednesday night.
Stapleton, who has written for Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Adele, George Strait and others was Wednesday night's big winner, taking home three awards -- male vocalist, new artist and album of the year for "Traveller."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that CMA members voted for Stapleton who has been a staple in the Nashville songwriting community for many years. But the 37-year-old only made his solo album debut in May 2015 and the newcomer had many fans puzzled over where the rising star came from.
The Kentucky-born singer has had a long road to success, starting off as the lead singer of the bluegrass band The SteelDrivers. He left the band in 2010 and started a Southern rock band called The Jompson Brothers and opened for the Zac Brown Band.
It wasn't until 2013 that he signed as a solo artist to Mercury records and released a single called "What Are You Listening To" that was part of a record that was never released. In 2015, with the release of "Traveller," Stapleton finally found his footing.
"Watching Chris Stapleton have this night is so uplifting," Bryan said onstage after accepting the night's biggest award for entertainer of the year.
Lambert echoed Bryan's thoughts, wearing a Chris Stapleton T-shirt, she said during her female vocalist acceptance speech, "Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton, thank you very much. I'm going to go home and practice."
Stapleton's night wasn't just about winning awards: He also turned in a show-stopping performance with Justin Timberlake, who tapped into his Memphis, Tennessee, roots as they strummed their guitars while singing "Tennessee Whiskey," which Stapleton covered on his album. They followed that with Timberlake's tune, "Drink You Away."
The audience was in awe: Timberlake's wife, actress Jessica Biel, watched excitedly and bopped her head while Keith Urban recorded the performance with his phone.
He was on the brink of tears when he won his third prize at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
"About two years ago, I lost my dad and I made this record thinking about a lot of music he would like. ... My mom is here tonight. I want to thank my mom," said Stapleton. "I'm not going to take it lightly ...I got to thank my wife again, she always pushes me to be the best I can be ...I gotta thank all my cousins in Kentucky."
Stapleton said backstage, "It's surreal, very unbelievable ...I feel very loved." Onstage he said, "I've been in the music business for a while, but I've never done anything like this. It's a little overwhelming, but I'm going to do my best to handle it with some degree of grace."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.