Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Shania Twain and Kelsea Ballerini were honored at the seventh annual CMT Artists of the Year event, which taped Wednesday and aired Thursday.
The show opened with Florida Georgia Line singing its hit song, “May We All.” After the performance, Charles Esten took to the stage to talk about the first time he met Tyler an BK, before handing over their awards.
Luke Bryan introduced his friend, Chris Stapleton, who blew the crowd away with an acoustic version of “Whiskey and You.” After his performance, Chris accepted his award from Luke, explaining that he filled in for Luke, singing “Drink a Beer” a few years prior, and it was the first time his music was ever televised. He thanked Luke for the opportunity.
Arsenio Hall took the stage next, introducing his “little sister,” Kelsea Ballerini. She sang “Peter Pan” in a blue sequined mini-dress and then accepted the Breakout Artist of the Year award in honor of her grandfather, who had passed away earlier in the day.
Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Luke Bryan wowed the crowd with their duet, “Home Alone Tonight.” After the performance, all of Little Big Town joined Karen on the stage to present Luke his award. But before handing it over, they took the time to make fun of his recent accident. They ended up giving him a tricycle along with his award. Luke mentions that Little Big Town taught him how to cure a hangover while they were out on tour with him over the summer.
Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian were up next, saying they loved listening to music to get them pumped up for competitions, and “no one gets them more pumped up than Carrie Underwood.” Carrie took to the stage with the Love Junkies, a trio of songwriters — Hillary Lindsay, Liz Rose, and Lori McKenna — singing a new song. Carrie teared up while making her acceptance speech, after seeing her son on the screen.
Thomas Rhett was introduced by his “best friends,” the men of Florida Georgia Line. He performed a mashup of his hit song, “Die a Happy Man,” and “Never Forget You” with Zara Larsson.
In the final performance of the night, Meghan Trainor, Kelsea Ballerini and Jill Scott performed a medley of Shania Twain songs, including “Still the One,” “Any Man of Mine,” and “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.” Shania accepted her award, saying, “Music has always been my best friend. I love dogs, but… music has always been my best friend.”