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“Country music is hip and it’s cool and it’s young and it’s fresh, and I think [Rihanna] being here tonight is even more of a testimony to that.”
—-Jennifer Nettles, Sugarland
SWIFT, LAMBERT RULE
AT ACM AWARDS
Steven Tyler, Rihanna and James Taylor Make Surprise Appearances

The gals ruled at last night’s 46th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and televised on CBS.

Taylor Swift was named Entertainer of the Year, while Miranda Lambert won a field-leading four trophies, with Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum also taking home major awards. Lambert earned honors for Top Female Vocalist, Song, Single and Video of the Year for “The House That Built Me.”

The night included performances from American Idol judge Steven Tyler, folk-rock icon James Taylor and R&B star Rihanna. Tyler sang with Carrie Underwood, Taylor with Zac Brown Band and Rihanna performed her current single, “California King Bed,” with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles in a provocative turn that proved how far country music has come in 2011.

“She’s a wonderful performer,” Nettles said of Rihanna. “Country music is hip and it’s cool and it’s young and it’s fresh, and I think her being here tonight is even more of a testimony to that.”

That first award of the eening went to Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” for Song of the Year, penned by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.

Paisley won an unprecedented fifth-consecutive Top Male Vocalist award, thanking “the fans of country music for giving me a shot to do this for a living.” Paisley tied George Strait, both of them one win away from tying Merle Haggard for ACM’s all-time lead in the category.

Paisley opened the show with “Old Alabama,” a song that found him borrowing lines from country supergroup Alabama’s “Mountain Music.”

Lambert’s second-straight female vocalist win found her saying, “I don’t know why I’m up here. I feel so blessed and humbled.”

Fresh from winning five Grammys in February, Lady Antebellum triumphed in the top album category with Need You Now, having sold than 3 million copies in 2010. Lady A also won a second-straight vocal group crown, following seven consecutive wins by Rascal Flatts, who weren’t even nominated.

With 16-time top duo category winners Brooks & Dunn retired, Sugarland had an easier path to that prize. Sugarland’s Nettles and Kristian Bush performed at the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel during the concurrent ACM Fan Jam celebration, with some of their performances and their acceptance speech piped into the MGM Grand. Meanwhile, Ronnie Dunn made his solo awards show debut with a rousing “Bleed Red.”

Awarded before the show, the top video prize went to Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” while Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson earned Vocal Event of the Year for “As She’s Walking Away.” The Band Perry, which performed their #1 country hit “If I Die Young” during the show, won out over Eric Church in the fan-voted Top New Artist race.

“Country music is the people’s music, and it’s our greatest desire to be their band,” said Kimberly Perry, who sang and wrote “If I Die Young.”

Reba McEntire hosted the show for the 13th time, introducing Blake Shelton as her co-host.

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR
Taylor Swift

TOP FEMALE VOCALIST
Miranda Lambert

TOP MALE VOCALIST
Brad Paisley

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Need You Now, Lady Antebellum

SINGLE OF THE YEAR
“The House that Built Me,” Miranda Lambert

SONG OF THE YEAR
“The House That Built Me": Miranda Lambert; composers: Tom Douglas, Allen Shamblin; publishers: Built On Rock (ASCAP), Sony/ATV Tree Publishing (BMI), Tomdouglasmusic (BMI)

TOP VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR
Lady Antebellum

TOP VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR
Sugarland

TOP NEW ARTIST
The Band Perry

VIDEO OF THE YEAR
“The House that Built Me” — Miranda Lambert, Trent Hardville (producer), Trey Fanjoy (director)

VOCAL EVENT OF THE YEAR
Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson; produced by: Zac Brown, Keith Stegall

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