Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Just as you thought our sexy, sassy and oh–so-tall “Jubilee!” dancers from Bally’s had stolen the 2013 American Country Awards on Tuesday at Mandalay Bay Events Center in a laugh-filled segment, along came LeAnn Rimes with her tearjerker tribute to the legendary Patsy Cline.
LeAnn finished in tears onstage, and so did audience members who gave her a lengthy standing ovation. It was a joyous country night of laughter and crying, especially for Florida Georgia Line, who left town this morning with six blue guitars, the most awards during the telecast.
Blake Shelton, who was taping “The Voice” in Los Angeles, came in on a satellite video feed to mark his four-award win. Luke Bryan won three awards, as Artist of the Year Male and Artist of the Year (overall), plus, the new category Touring Artist of the Year. That brought his total to 12, the most for a male solo artist.
Carrie Underwood’s win in Best Music Video Female, plus, her 11 previous awards made her the female artist with the most ACA honors. The full list of winners can be found at TheACAs.com.
NASCAR racer Danica Patrick handled her debut MC duties flawlessly and smoothly. The petite beauty didn’t get ruffled once by her towering co-host Trace Adkins, even when he dressed up in a bejeweled, feather-bedecked “Jubilee!” dancers outfit to crash her debut showgirl dance routine. Danica simply locked his dressing room door, and he was left to sing “I Feel Pretty” into his makeup mirror.
After the show, Trace told me: “We’re here to have fun in Vegas. It gets silly and goofy, but we’re laughing and the audience is having a great time, so we enjoy what we do.” Trace also got laughs squeezing into a SmartCar for their late-arrival roar down a backstage Mandalay Bay driveway and when he wore a knockoff of Danica’s NASCAR racing suit in a failed attempt to dive through the window of her racecar.
Danica said that she had fulfilled her dream of becoming a Las Vegas showgirl by performing the number with the “Jubilee!” dancers. She joined them for a dance routine in full showgirl costume. Afterward, Danica exclaimed, “That was fun! I’ve always wanted to do that,” but jokingly compared her height to the showgirls, saying that the good thing about her being a showgirl is that “there’s no chance of having a wardrobe malfunction because there’s not much to malfunction.”
Even though Florida Georgia Line set off massive on-stage pyrotechnics, it was LeAnn who stole the show saluting Patsy on the 50th anniversary of the legend’s death. Fox directors OK’d it being broadcast in black and white, adding to her powerful rendition that brought her to tears.
My friend Emily Jillette, who was in the front row sitting with Trace’s wife, Rhonda (Emily’s husband, Rio magician headliner Penn Jillette, and Trace were the finalists in Donald Trump’s most recent “Celebrity Apprentice” and donated winnings to our beloved charity Opportunity Village charity), told me many audience members were crying during the standing ovation.
Backstage, LeAnn told us: “I really feel a connection with her. I’ve been compared to her for so many years, since I was a baby. She is in my DNA. This brought our true connection full circle.” I interviewed LeAnn last December. She says only now at 31 does she feel she’s free, starting over again and says she’s got big announcements coming about her future in January.
Just where did the stars go after the early evening telecast? After Trace and I snapped a photograph together for his wife, Rhonda, they took off to nearby Michael Mina’s Stripsteak, while Danica and NASCAR boyfriend Rick Stenhouse Jr. were steps away at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole.
Luke and his wife, Caroline, hit Jenna and Michael Morton’s La Cave Food and Wine Hideaway in Wynn Las Vegas for lunch and dinner. Lady Antebellum celebrated their win for Artist of the Year Group and Single of the Year for “Downtown” at Lavo in the Palazzo, with Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood each ordering a 1-pound Kobe meatball with whipped ricotta.
Big Machine record label artists including Florida Georgia Line, Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett headed to the nearby House of Blues Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay for the after-party sponsored by Crown Royal. Justin and Thomas completed their first-ever awards performances.
They all toasted with the new Crown Royal XO and were among the first in the world to try the extraordinary whisky finished in cognac casks. They were each given their own bottle as a souvenir. Also there: LeAnn and husband Eddie Cibrian, Dwight Yoakam, NASCAR reporter Jamie Little and HGTV stars Jonathan and Drew Scott from Las Vegas who warmed up the crowd pre-show.
Neilsen ratings at noon today indicated that the awards matched last year’s with more than 5 million viewers. Fox execs say they’ll be back for a fifth consecutive year next December in the final year — at least for now — of the current contract.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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