NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country singer Kelsea Ballerini opened the CMT Music Awards with a tribute to victims of a school shooting while sharing in that community’s grief, then danced alongside drag artists as states across the country consider legally limiting drag show performances.
Ballerini, a co-host of the annual awards show with singer Kane Brown, opened the Austin, Texas, show by listing the names of six victims three adults and three 9-year-olds who were killed Monday at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. She noted how she shared their pain, explaining that in 2008 she witnessed a school shooting in her hometown high school cafeteria in Knoxville and prayed for “real action” that would protect children and families.
About two hours into the fan-voted awards show, the Tennessee native sang “If You Go Down (I’m Going Down Too)” and danced with Kennedy Davenport, Jan Sport, Manila Luzon and Olivia Lux, all stars of the show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Her home state of Tennessee was the first to place strict limits on drag show performances, which were set to take effect this month. The law has been temporarily blocked after a lawsuit was filed earlier this week.
Country superstar and five-time Grammy winner Shania Twain was given the Equal Play Award, recognizing her for being a “visible and vocal advocate” for diverse voices in country music. Texas native and Grammy-winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion introduced Twain, the pair dancing and hugging to Twain’s hit, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.”
The lyrics to the song became an undercurrent to a decades-long career of advocacy, Twain said.
“I promise I will continue to champion the many outstanding country artists that are not currently played, they are not currently streamed, toured, signed or awarded at the level they deserve,” Twain said. “I believe in an all-inclusive country music.”
Leading nominee Lainey Wilson picked up early wins with female video of the year for “Heart Like a Truck” and collaborative video of the year for “Wait in the Truck” with HARDY.
“My heart is ’bout to beat right out my chest, I’ll be honest with y’all,” Wilson said after winning female video of the year, calling the hit song an anthem for surviving the “scratches, the dents and the bumps along the way.”
This year’s CMT Music Awards merged country, rock and blues straight from the heart of Texas, featuring performances including collaborations with Alanis Morissette, The Black Crowes, Gwen Stefani and Gary Clark Jr. and tributes to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Country Music Hall of Famer Wynonna Judd and Ashley Judd performed a cover of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love is” while heavy fog rolled over the stage and into the crowd.
Pop singer Stefani performed her No Doubt mid-1990s pop-punk hit “Just a Girl” alongside country singer Carly Pearce. Jelly Roll, already a double winner, brought a choir out for his prayer-themed song “Need a Favor” and got the crowd to raise their hands to the roof.
Carrie Underwood has a chance to extend her record as the most awarded artist in CMT history with 25 awards. Underwood, who also will perform, was nominated again for video of the year for “Hate My Heart.”
Four-time Grammy winner Clark Jr. performed a tribute to the late Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn at the top of the show.
Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd will be honored with a tribute performance following the death in March of the last original member, Gary Rossington. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Slash of Guns N’ Roses and the Allman Brothers’ Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell are set to perform with singers Paul Rodgers and Cody Johnson with backup vocals from LeAnn Rimes and Judd.
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