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HomeEntertainmentCMA Awards 2023: Complete list of winners, best and worst moments

CMA Awards 2023: Complete list of winners, best and worst moments

NASHVILLE — Breakout country star Lainey Wilson won entertainer of the year at the 57th annual Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday night, making her the first woman to win the genre’s biggest prize at its most prestigious award show since Taylor Swift took home the trophy in 2011. Before Swift, the other women to win in the category were the Chicks, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

Wilson, 31, took several seconds to compose herself as she arrived onstage — it was her fifth win of the night, the most of any artist, out of a field-leading nine nominations. The audience cheered wildly for the singer, an industry favorite who worked tirelessly for a decade before breaking through in Nashville.

“Thank you so much. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, this is the only thing I know how to do,” Wilson said, her voice shaking, noting that she and her band have played about 186 shows this year. “We’ve worked our butts off this year and so many years in between. I’ve been in this town for 12 and a half years, and it finally feels like country music is starting to love me back.”

Wilson won for female vocalist, as well as album of the year for “Bell Bottom Country,” plus music video and musical event with her good friend, Hardy, for their murder ballad duet “Wait in the Truck.”

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She triumphed over superstars Morgan Wallen, Chris Stapleton, Carrie Underwood and Luke Combs, who won the entertainer trophy the last two years and took Wilson out as an opening act on his recent stadium tour. But Combs didn’t leave empty-handed, landing single of the year for his cover of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 smash “Fast Car,” which has been an enormous hit for Combs and near the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for much of this year. Chapman, the sole writer, won song of the year.

“I want to thank Tracy Chapman for writing one of the best songs of all time,” Combs told the audience. Chapman was not in attendance and sent in a message read by presenter Sara Evans: “It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut. … Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.’”

When Combs arrived backstage, reporters noted that Chapman is the first Black woman to win a CMA Award in the show’s history; the song has sparked conversations about the lack of diversity in country music. Combs called Chapman a “trendsetting, groundbreaking artist” and said although he has never met her or talked to her outside of official correspondence about the song, he hopes that he will someday. He said he recorded it because it’s one of his favorite songs of all time, and didn’t expect to be forever associated with such an iconic hit. “I’m super, super humbled to be a small part of that,” he said.

The rest of the winners were familiar: Stapleton won male vocalist of the year, while Old Dominion and Brothers Osborne won group of the year and duo of the year respectively, each for the sixth time. And as usual, the CMAs made sure to include a non-country artist who is guaranteed to divide the internet — this time it was Post Malone, who performed a Joe Diffie tribute with Wallen and Hardy.

Here are more of the best and worst moments, with a complete list of winners below.

The Jelly Roll and Wynonna Judd crossover

Ask pretty much anyone in Nashville and they will tell you they adore Jelly Roll — not just his voice, but his inspirational redemption story, as he has been candid about his drug addiction and time in prison and how he’s worked to overcome his demons. One of his biggest fans is Wynonna Judd, who surprised the crowd when she joined him in the opening segment for “Need a Favor,” his wrenching song begging for divine intervention. Later, Jelly Roll bookended the show with a duet with R&B and hip-hop artist K. Michelle, singing Judd’s “Love Can Build a Bridge.”

“God is just getting started with me,” Jelly Roll, 38, said later in the press room, thanking everyone who took a chance on him. He won new artist of the year and delivered an acceptance speech that was more like a sermon, imploring anyone with dreams to never give up: “It’s one of the greatest stories ever told – a nearly 40-year-old man won new artist of the year.”

The Lainey Wilson performance

You know you’ve made it in the music industry when your award show set involves fire. Lainey Wilson called in the pyrotechnics for her energetic rendition of “Wildflowers and Wild Horses,” which had a very dramatic background that included a dark sky, smoke, a rickety fence and a literal ring of fire.

The CMAs are a great place to show off the smoke machines, but some artists showcase low-key songs with a guitar and little else. It’s tough to hold the audience’s attention, but Ashley McBryde’s rendition of “Light On In the Kitchen” was captivating as she was surrounded by glowing chandeliers. The crowd was almost silent during Kelsea Ballerini’s “Leave Me Again,” the quietest song on her deeply personal album about her divorce. And depending on what stage of life you’re in at the moment, Jordan Davis’s “Next Thing You Know” can easily make you cry before you realize what’s happening.

Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning’s (mostly) improved monologue

These CMAs opening “comedy” bits have mostly been painful ever since the Carrie Underwood-Brad Paisley era ended, but Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning had much better chemistry in their second year of co-hosting. They wisely kicked things off with a Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce joke, as Manning asked “You know the difference between Taylor Swift and the New York Jets?” and Bryan responded, “Uh, Taylor can sell out a stadium?” Manning, probably not kidding, said he had Bryan say that punchline so he didn’t get in trouble with his NFL friends.

After the requisite Eli Manning joke – they showed a picture of him with face tattoos, just like Jelly Roll – they played a game where Manning had to finish famous country song lyrics…and of course, the one he pretended not to know was Bryan’s “One Margarita.” (However, there were plenty of groans when the duo sported matching t-shirts that said Luke + Pey, saying they were the new Dan + Shay.)

The War and Treaty performance

Husband and wife duo Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter, who received their first nomination this year in the vocal duo category, are quickly becoming award show favorites. This time, they went back and forth on the ballad “That’s How Love is Made,” clutching hands as they swooned.

Tanya Tucker and Little Big Town

There’s no way better way to get a faster standing ovation than singing “Delta Dawn” at a country show — and especially if Tanya Tucker (new inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame) is there herself.

TJ Osborne’s spectacular jacket

Country singers tend to play it safe with fashion, but TJ Osborne (of the Maryland sibling duo Brothers Osborne) showed up in a spectacularly glittery jacket, covered in images of cowboy boots and dice and crosses. Backstage, reporters were eager to ask the story behind the outfit.

Osborne told reporters he wore the jacket because he already wore it at the Stagecoach country music festival and it was so expensive he wanted to make sure he got his money’s worth. The other reason was more emotional: Osborne, who came out publicly in 2021 and is one of the few openly gay artists in mainstream country music, said that when he was closeted, he was “very fearful” to wear flashy clothes because it might bring up questions about him. But when they played Stagecoach, Osborne said, he felt he “really stepped into myself in a very public way” and symbolized it with an incredible jacket.

The lack of “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

Country singers were in mourning after the death of Jimmy Buffett, a longtime friend to the Nashville community. Kenny Chesney and Mac McAnally sounded great on “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson had a blast with “Margaritaville” wearing their best beach looks…but it was jarring to see Jackson onstage honoring Buffett and not hear someone say “Funny you should ask, Alan,” the famous line from the duo’s epic song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” How could they overlook such a huge country hit, especially on the 20-year anniversary of when it won music event of the year at the CMAs in 2003?

There’s no doubt that Luke Bryan is one of the most popular hitmakers in country music history, but he did not sound great during his medley that sampled his 30 No. 1 songs. The vocal riffs were all over the place, and it might have worked better if he had slowed it down at various points instead of five fast-paced and somewhat frenetic songs.

Chris Stapleton and Carly Pearce’s duet

Chris Stapleton has won endless awards for his powerful vocals, and Carly Pearce has one of the best voices in town. However, their new duet “We Don’t Fight Anymore” lacked energy during the live performance, unless they were trying to channel the indifference of the couple in the song that can’t even muster up a good argument.

Male Vocalist of the Year

Chris Stapleton — winner

Female Vocalist of the Year

“Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville” Ashley McBryde

“Bell Bottom Country” Lainey Wilson — winner

“Gettin’ Old” Luke Combs

“One Thing at a Time” Morgan Wallen

“Rolling Up the Welcome Mat” Kelsea Ballerini

“Fast Car” Luke Combs — winner

“Heart Like a Truck” Lainey Wilson

“Next Thing You Know” Jordan Davis

“Wait in the Truck” Hardy feat. Lainey Wilson

“Need a Favor” Jelly Roll

“Fast Car” Luke Combs (written by Tracy Chapman) — winner

“Heart Like a Truck” Lainey Wilson (written by Wilson, Trannie Anderson, Dallas Wilson)

“Next Thing You Know” Jordan Davis (written by Davis, Greylan James, Chase McGill, Josh Osborne)

“Wait in the Truck” Hardy feat. Lainey Wilson (written by Hardy, Renee Blair, Hunter Phelps, Jordan Schmidt)

“Tennessee Orange” Megan Moroney (written by Moroney, David Fanning, Paul Jenkins, Ben Williams)

Brothers Osborne — winner

Musical Event of the Year

“Wait in the Truck” Hardy feat. Lainey Wilson — winner

“Save Me” Jelly Roll with Lainey Wilson

“She Had Me at Heads Carolina” Cole Swindell and Jo Dee Messina

“Thank God” Kane Brown with Katelyn Brown

“We Don’t Fight Anymore” Carly Pearce feat. Chris Stapleton

“Wait in the Truck” Hardy feat. Lainey Wilson — winner

“Need a Favor” Jelly Roll

“Next Thing You Know” Jordan Davis

“Light On in the Kitchen” Ashley McBryde

“Memory Lane” Old Dominion

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