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Carrie Underwood overwhelms 40th Annual CMA Awards

Mark Price
The Charlotte Observer
Carrie Underwood

The music of Brooks & Dunn claimed trophies in four categories at Monday night's Country Music Association Awards, but the ceremony's most emotional moment came with the unexpected win of 2005 "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood for best female vocalist.

With only one album to her credit, Underwood beat out popular veterans Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson. Underwood also won the Horizon Award for best new artist.

"Oh my gosh," Underwood gasped, after running to the stage with her hands cupped over her face. "Two years ago, I was sitting at home watching these very awards, watching all these other people win and have the best night of their lives. and this is the best year of my life. Thank you, fans. Everybody that has anything to do with this past year, thank you so much."

Later, backstage, she joked: "I would have taken male vocalist if they had given it to me."

Underwood's comments were among the few unguarded moments in the nationally televised ceremony that all too often was laden with dull speeches that thanked record labels, fans and country radio.

Ironically, the night's poignant moments came when Keith Urban won for best male vocalist and received a standing ovation, despite not being there. He canceled his CMA appearance last month after checking into a rehabilitation treatment center for alcohol abuse.

In a note read by host Ronnie Dunn, Urban thanked fans, the industry and his wife of four months, actress Nicole Kidman: "I'm pained not being here with you all tonight. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I'm looking forward to coming home and seeing you all soon."

"We love you, Keith," Dunn said, adding, "Good luck, brother."

The evening's biggest award went to Kenny Chesney, who was named Entertainer of the Year, an honor that seemed a sure thing based on his rank as one of the year's top grossing tours.

"The relationship I have with the (fans) is unbelievable," he said, pointing to fans sitting in the back of the theater. "You'll have given me, my band and my crew a lot of great times this summer."

Brooks & Dunn walked into the night with six nominations and came away winning four, with trophies for duo of the year, and best single, song and video. The latter three were for "Believe," a gospel-tinged 2006 song, that never reached any higher than No. 8 on the Billboard Country charts.

The night's other multiple winner was Brad Paisley, who was shut out at last year's awards. He won for best album ("Time Well Wasted") and musical event of the year, an award he shared with Dolly Parton for their duet on "When I Get Where I'm Going." It was her first CMA award since 1996.

In keeping with his well known dry sense of humor, Paisley said: "I'd foremost like to thank the country music fans. I love you, too, and I never dreamed that when we were making this album that we'd sell 25 million copies. I mean, we haven't yet, but we're very excited about the possibilities after winning this."

After continuing with a list of other thanks, he concluded by saying: "To my wife Kim, who said I should thank her first."

As previously announced, the ceremony also included the induction of George Strait and Sonny James into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Both men attended the event, and Strait accepted the honor wearing reading glasses, something he does rarely in public.

"Who would have thought it," Strait told the crowd, getting a cheer. "Don't think I don't realize why I'm here."

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