I had to go for USA Today on Sunday to the Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden and stand in triple-digit heat along that journalist trough known as a red carpet. In this case, it was an orange carpet, but nobody could/would say why and one colleague's suggestion that it's because Home Depot is a major sponsor was incorrect.
Anyhow, all of us journos were pretty set on doing sleepy little tales of Vegas-gone-country, lifetime-achiever Garth Brooks worship and pretty new young things winning big when Entertainer of the Year Kenny Chesney forced a total rewrite by complaining backstage at the end of the program about a change in how the award he won is decided. For the first time, it was purely determined by online public voting, making it harder for him to compare his fourth-in-a-row triumph to the four-straights of Garth Brooks of the five-straights of Alabama. He started by pausing to say he had to "choose his words carefully," but then he unloaded pretty spectacularly.
Since he won, it wasn't just sour grapes. And that explains why my piece ended up being written as it was. Read the main piece here. I also grabbed Dr. Phil McGraw and put him on the spot about those racy Vanity Fair photos. Read that item here.
I didn't bother to interview LeAnn Rimes on the carpet since I profiled her here for last week's L.A. Times. The conversation for that piece will air on this week's episode of "The Strip," too. Oh, and she also didn't give a fig about talking to print reporters, which may explain why this shot came out so unflattering as she virtually sprinted past us after charming the TV cameras.
Now, you can tell that I'm not modern country fan -- I was probably 15 years too late to catch my fave, Collin Raye, here -- since in our haste I screwed up the name of one of the Brooks & Dunn guys in my piece. But in my prep I fell in total love with Sugarland, which won Song of the Year and Single of the Year for the wrenching ballad "Stay." I challenge you to go watch this Sinead O'Connoresque video and come back unimpressed. Here they are, with Jennifer Nettles also showing off her backless dress.
Aside from Dr. Phil, there were others with tenuous ties to country music showing up including American Gladiator's Wolf and some Victoria's Secret model with the longest, barest legs I've ever seen.
The model is being asked by some dippy woman from some Web video thing called HollyScoop to answer the same inane question Dippy asked every single person who came by: "What's country to you?" Yes, folks, Dippy got a better spot on the carpet than USA Today, People, the Associated Press and several other major print/online outlets. In fact, everyone with a video camera did, leaving us with only the stars so early, so patient or so desperate for attention to be bothered to speak to print scribes by the time they got past the 100 or so TV softball tossers.
Speaking of which, I didn't have any questions for Jewel and, besides, I couldn't stop thinking of lemon meringue pie for some reason as she stopped by...
We could've gotten out of the heat sooner if we hadn't had to stand around waiting for Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban to race by us minutes before the awards show started. You can't see it, but the reason why Kidman is holding down her YSL maternity frock as though it might blow away -- there was no wind -- was because there was evidently some sort of ironing disaster that left a huge region of wrinkles to our left of her bump. There's a story there, but nobody had the guts to ask her. Or the time.
Backstage, we heard from award-winners including the awful cute Brad Paisley...
...the awful cute (and young!) Taylor Swift...
...and the awful thinner Garth Brooks.
This was before Chesney came along with his bombshell, so I actually was able to pay attention to Garth. He seemed really nice. I've always been a fan. He should really think about playing Vegas. Maybe even the Colosseum. Now there's an idea...
And that was that. Yee-haw.