NEW YORK (AP) — Miranda Lambert, the most decorated artist in the history of the Academy of Country Music Awards, kicked off the 2021 show alongside rock-pop singer Elle King for a fun, energetic performance of their new duet.
Lambert and King wore matching outfits — an all-black ensemble with pink fringe hanging from Lambert’s leather jacket and blue from King’s — and sang the anthemic track “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee. The performance, like many airing Sunday night, was pre-taped at various locations in Nashville, including the Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe, in front of small audiences made up of medical and healthcare workers.
More collaborative moments will happen throughout the three-hour show. Underwood will sing with gospel legend CeCe Winans; Maren Morris will perform with her hubby Ryan Hurd; and Dierks Bentley will sing U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” with husband and wife duo The War and Treaty. Other performers include Blake Shelton, Alan Jackson, Dan + Shay, Lady A, Brothers Osborne and Ashley McBryde.
Lambert is nominated for five honors and has a chance of extending her record. She isn’t competing for the show’s top prize, entertainer of the year, where all the nominees are male artists. Entertainer of the year nominees include Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton, Eric Church and Thomas Rhett, who won the honor last year in a tie with Underwood.
“Coming in and finding out that you winning entertainer of the year along with Carrie Underwood, that’s just — that’s just adrenaline to last you the whole year pretty much,” Rhett said in an interview Saturday. “So it’s an honor to be back at the ACMs, nominated in that same category is just super special. And something that I will never in a million years take for granted and just feel super honored to be here.”
Bryan, who was set to perform at the awards, backed out of the event because he recently tested positive for the coronavirus. All of the other entertainer of the year nominees will perform.
Another big name in country music is also missing from the show: Morgan Wallen. The singer, whose latest album and singles have found major success on both the country and pop charts, was declared ineligible by the ACMs after he was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year.
Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet also won’t participate in the show since he recently tested positive for COVID-19, and his band will perform without him.
Stapleton and Morris are the top nominees with six each. Stapleton’s nominations include album, song and male artist of the year. Morris’ nominations include single and female artist of the year. She also landed a group of the year nod as a member of the Highwomen, the supergroup also featuring Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby.
Some of the ACM winners were pre-announced, including Gabby Barrett (new female artist), Jimmie Allen (new male artist) and Kane Brown (video of the year). Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s platinum hit “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” co-written by Combs, won music event of the year.
____ AP Entertainment Writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report from Nashville.