(LAS VEGAS) — Luke Bryan was richly rewarded for co-hosting the ACM Awards for the very first time on Sunday night: he took home the night’s top honor.
In the biggest surprise of Sunday night’s telecast, which aired live from Las Vegas on CBS, Bryan was named Entertainer of the Year, beating out his ACM Awards co-host Blake Shelton, as well as Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift.
Bryan is the first male artist to win the award since 2007, when Kenny Chesney took it home. Since then, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood have each won the fan-voted award twice.
A visibly emotional Bryan struggled to hold back tears as he told the crowd, “This is the defining moment of my life and it means the world to me, and I will never take it for granted.”
He added, “What I always wanted to be was just a country singer that got to ride on a tour bus and show up at a new stage and play music every night…every time I step on stage, it is a blessing to play for fans.”
Noting that he’d just started headlining his own tours, Bryan also thanked all the artists for whom he’s opened — those he “watched from the side of the stage” — who he said taught him how to be a better entertainer.
Bryan was presented his award by Shania Twain, making her first appearance on the ACM Awards in a decade. At one point, Shelton hugged Twain, and then made an “all right!” gesture, indicating that embracing the Canadian singer was a long-held dream of his.
The night’s other big winner was Shelton’s wife, Lambert, who was named Female Vocalist of the Year for the fourth straight year. She also picked up the awards for Single and Song of the Year for “Over You,” the song she co-wrote with Shelton about his late brother.
Lambert is now one of only three women to have won Female Vocalist four or more times: Reba McEntire and Loretta Lynn are the others.
Accepting the Female Vocalist award, Lambert said, “I thought for sure Carrie had it this year, and she damn well deserves it!”
Then, in tears, she said, “Last night a huge dream of mine came true…I went from being a little girl singing into a hairbrush to watching Shania Twain with Faith Hill, Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson.”
Lambert was referring to the fact that she, Hill, McEntire and Clarkson all went to see Twain’s Las Vegas show at Caesars Palace on Saturday night.
Aldean was named Male Vocalist of the Year — his first win in that category — and his collaboration with Bryan and Eric Church, “Only Way I Know How,” was named Vocal Event of the Year. It was his second consecutive win in that category: he won last year for “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” his duet with Clarkson.
Eric Church’s Chief was named Album of the Year, and he was presented with his trophy by rock legend John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Accepting the trophy, a surprised Church said, “I can’t believe I just met John Fogerty! We should hang out later.”
Little Big Town was named Vocal Group of the Year and earned Video of the Year honors for “Tornado,” while Thompson Square took home the Vocal Duo of the Year prize.
Florida Georgia Line captured the fan-voted Best New Artist Award. Swift, who was up for five awards, went home empty-handed.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Eric Levenson, CNN
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN
Madison Park, Keith Allen and Andreas Preuss, CNN