BY: Chris Talbott
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – All four of the guys who lost to Taylor Swift for entertainer of the year at the Country Music Association Awards made a tactical error: They asked the crossover sensation to open for them in their concerts.
Swift quickly shed her opener status and shook up the music world with an incredible year that included the best-selling album, a concert tour that sold out almost immediately and, now, a historic night at the CMAs that included becoming the youngest winner of the association’s highest honor.
“Yeah, next year we’re not going to take any opening acts out,” Brad Paisley said jokingly.
The CMA’s more than 5,000 members — often cited as a conservative bunch — seemed as taken with Swift as the rest of the music world has been. She won all four awards for which she was nominated, snapping Kenny Chesney’s streak of four entertainer wins in the last five years and Carrie Underwood’s three-year run as top female vocalist.
Chesney hugged and kissed Swift on her way to the stage and most of her peers hailed her Wednesday night during the ABC telecast at the Sommet Center.
“She has taken the music world by storm,” Paisley said. “She’s the biggest artist in music right now, by far. It’s hands down. She’s entertainer of the year in country music, no doubt, and I’m really proud of her.”
Association members didn’t stop with Swift, making interesting choices in most of the 12 categories. Darius Rucker became the second black performer to win a major individual award when he took new artist, joining Charley Pride, who took entertainer of the year in 1971 and male vocalist in 1971-72.
“Making this record, I never thought about being an African-American guy making a country record,” said Rucker, whose “Learning to Live” sold 1 million copies this year. “I just thought I was a guy making a country record until my first song went top 20 and people started talking about it. I’m proud of that, I’m proud of being that guy who has taken up where Charley Pride left off.”
Lady Antebellum, winners of two awards, ended Rascal Flatts’ six-year run in the vocal group category. And Jamey Johnson, known for his outlaw country sound and wild beard, won song of the year for “In Color” with Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto.
Paisley was the only other winner with multiple awards, taking male vocalist for the third straight year and event for his duet “Start a Band” with Keith Urban.
Swift also won album of the year for “Fearless,” the top-selling CD of the year, and video of the year for “Love Story.”
After being presented with the entertainer trophy by her childhood idol Faith Hill, Swift called her band on stage and was the center of a group hug as fans cheered wildly, holding signs that said, “We love you, Taylor.” Her father cried in the audience.
“I’ll never forget this moment because in this moment everything that I have ever wanted has just happened to me,” Swift said through tears.
Several women country music artists said they were pulling for Swift, including Barbara Mandrell, one of six female acts to win entertainer of the year and the only to win it twice.
“I think it will be exciting to see where she takes it because she entertains you,” said Mandrell, the first two-time winner of entertainer of the year, who was honored for her election into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Organizers gave a nod to Swift’s popularity, asking her to play two songs during the show. She opened with a rousing rendition of “Forever & Always,” throwing a chair from a raised podium, sliding to the floor on a pole, then dropping to her knees to sing the song’s bridge.
She also played acoustic guitar while singing “Fifteen” as a few dozen fans waved their arms around her.
The year’s not yet over for Swift, but she’s already identified the high point in a 2009 that included so many milestones.
“I think about 37 minutes ago is what stands out for me my whole life,” Swift told reporters backstage. “You guys, I didn’t expect to win, so I’m really at a loss for words.”
AP Music Editor Nekesa Mumbi Moody and Associated Press Writer Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this report.
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