Greetings from Vegas, Mixers, and the Academy of Country Music Awards! I know what you’re saying: Hey, doesn’t that show happen in the fall? No. That is the CMAs. Not to be confused with the CMTs. Or CBS, the network on which these awards air. Also, please do not make the mistake of confusing this with AIG. These are the ACMs, they air Sunday night on the Tiffany Network, and your host for the eleventh year running is one Ms. Reba McEntire. Based on the list of performers I’ve seen — Kenny, Trace, Rascal Flatts, Keith, George, Tim and Faith, Sugarland, and the three ladies I’m here to observe today — it seems you will get more than your recommended daily allowance of big-ticket Nashville action if you choose to tune in. And yes, I will be using first names almost exclusively all weekend.
I originally intended to live-blog rehearsals from inside the arena, but my plan was foiled by lack of interwebs. Now I am sitting deep in the bowels of the MGM Grand Casino And Place To Sleep, stealing wireless and a chair from the Dick Clark Productions office, and putting this up in chunks. I think it’ll be just as good. Here is what you get if you follow me after the jump (this list to be updated as exciting things happen): An interview with Reba herself! Miranda Lambert on her new single, “Dead Flowers!” Carrie Underwood’s dress! And a live chat with country star Jack Ingram!
3:23 p.m. Reba is on stage in front of me. She looks great. When does she ever not? Even in jeans and a sweater, she is a classier broad than I am. If doing this show’s gotten old for her, I can’t tell, and her run-thru of “Strange” is right on point, three straight times. After she finishes the song, a female announcer’s voice says, “Ladies and gentlemen, Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker.” A tall man in glasses and a short auburn-haired woman emerge. They are neither Dierks nor Darius, I’m pretty sure.
3:34 Despite the fact that we’re inside a glamorous Vegas casino, it basically looks like the Grammys in here, if the Grammys were hosted in a municipal hockey arena. The floor seating is comprised of folding chairs that are the same frightful teal as the outside of the building. The stage area, on the other hand, looks great, very high-tech in that way that is specific to televised awards shows. There’s even a video screen on the ceiling. I never before took much time to look at the ACM award statuette itself, but there are two giant ones flanking the stage, and at that size it’s obvious: They’re shaped like cowboy hats. Kinda cool. Also, much like at the Grammys, there is a big wall that will open and close throughout the show so they can set up the performers in private and then reveal them in all their splendor to the audience. Unlike at the Grammys, this wall is shiny and white, instead of shiny and black. This is probably because country music is the music of Jesus.
3:41 Reba is being interviewed by a stream of media outlets — hopefully we’ll be one of them soon. One TV journalist walks past me up the aisle after his and says, “She’s such a pro.”
3:52 Someone is aggressively checking a drum kit on stage, which I have decided is one of the worst sounds in the entire world.
4:00 Get a second to sit down with Reba amidst brain-jiggling snare pops. It’s her 11th time hosting the show, and I ask her if it’s changed. “Drastically,” she says. “When we started, I wouldn’t change clothes four or five times.” We talk about all her co-hosts over the years: Randy Travis, Randy Owen, Hank Jr. I ask if it’s better to host alone (more control?) and she says no. “It’s more fun to have people with you.” Today’s rehearsal of “Strange” was the first time she’d done it with a full band, but after all this time, she said, she can tell when a song is working. “You feel it,” she smiled. “They asked if I wanted to do it again, and I said, ‘Nope. Three times is good.'” Though she was hesitant to pick a favorite in the Entertainer Race — “I want to see them all win. They’ve done a wonderful job all year in front of our fans — she did tell me one surprise thing about the telecast. Well — it’s really more of a surprise for her. “They told me, ‘Okay, you’ll come off stage, and change clothes, and then you need to be over here on the other side of the stage in five minutes.’ I said, ‘That might be a problem.'” Are we headed towards a Reba McEntire wardrobe malfunction? Stay tuned!
4:17 They are rehearsing LeAnn Rimes’ humanitarian award presentation. The woman doing the fake speech is very sincere about it. She tells a story about how the importance of kindness was handed down to her from her grandmother and mom, then thanks the Home Depot and God.
4:30 Meal break. Up next: Miranda!
5:30 I am glad to see that Miranda Lambert still has that mohawked bass player in her band. That guy rules.
5:45 The band has finished their individual sound checks, and is now running through the song with a blond boy who kind of looks like Gerard Way on vocals. He is giving a performance that rivals the Not-LeAnn Rimes lady in terms of commitment. I am a pretty big Miranda fan, but this is not a song I’ve ever heard; if I had to guess its name, I would say “Dead Flowers.” Now I am concerned about what other things I don’t know. Like who this blond boy is. I guess he’s in her band, though what would be really awesome is if Miranda travels with a male stand-in.
5:48 Miranda takes the stage, hugs her bemohawked bass player. Starts into the song. Blond boy is indeed a band member, and yeah, this has to be called “Dead Flowers.” It is not the Stones song, I do know that much. As I listen to her run it through — I love that bratty edge that comes into her voice at the end of lines sometimes — I do a little googling and come up dry. Start looking around for her publicist.
5:56 There seems to be some discussion about whether Miranda will do this song with or without the guitar. I vote with, even though she’s not playing it much. Looks cooler. And — ooh! Part of the giant white wall actually descends from the ceiling! Only thing that came down from the sky at the Grammys was Katy Perry.
6:06 Run-through number three. No guitar. What will she decide on for the telecast? Stay tuned!6:10 Well, now we know why she wanted to take the guitar off: It was just holding her back! For a rehearsal, this girl is putting a remarkable amount of angst into this song, and she ends with her hand upraised and all her hair in her face. Oh, Miranda. How I love your rage. I vote no guitar!
6:18 Every time Miranda finishes singing, the female announcer says, “Once again, please welcome Rascal Flatts,” and I become breathless with anticipation, even though I know it’s not really going to be them.
6:33 Miranda says “Dead Flowers” — which as far as I can tell comes down to the heartbroken protagonist now considering their life/love a waste, much like the titular subjects — wasn’t inspired by a specific event or person, just an image. “I got some flowers for Valentine’s Day, and I had to leave town. So I threw them in the yard, and when I got home I saw them laying there and thought it was so sad,” she said. “I just connected to it.” The song came together fast, and she threw it into her recording sessions at the last minute; her nerves are pretty high in terms of debuting it on the telecast, but she has faith in her band to pull her through. (PS: That blond boy’s name is Chris Kline, and he’s usually her keyboard player.) But maybe the jitters about the performance are a good thing, because they’re totally keeping her from thinking too much about winning any awards. “It’s anyone’s game,” she said of her Top Female Vocalist race (she’s also up for Single Record of the Year, for “Gunpowder and Lead”), and says whoever wins will do the ladies proud. “I think the females have the power these days.” Right on, yo!
6:57 We are awaiting Carrie Underwood, and I am doing so with special excitement, because I have been told that she’s rehearsing in the dress she’ll wear on the telecast. Here at the exclusive rehearsal for (one of) country music’s (two) biggest night(s), Carrie’s dress is so far the only thing that’s off the record. I wonder if every single one of the 100+ people who are now in this room (some of whom are toting full cups of what looks to be straight bourbon) plan on keeping the details of said dress to themselves, or if I’m just a sucker. Also, this had better be some Cher-style next-level clothing she’s got on.
7:06 Carrie’s backing track plays, tipping me off to the fact that she’s doing “I Told You So.” This disappoints me. I just saw her do this on Idol. With Randy Travis. So. You know.
7:14 Jack Ingram is now rehearsing his own teleprompter copy, with a stand-in by his side. He’s been lurking around the arena all day — actually interviewed Reba right after I did — and I think if Jack Ingram is spending his day doing the exact same things as me, something is off.
7:19 Carrie and the dress need to go on soon, because my computer is running out of batteries.
7:30 To kill time, I am now interviewing Jack Ingram.
EW: Hi Jack. Why are you here?
JI: They’re grooming me.
EW: For what?
JI: I don’t know. Reba’s job.
EW: Would you want Reba’s job?
JI: I would certainly take over if she decided to stop down.
EW: How would you do it differently?
JI: I would not wear dresses. And I’d have prettier shoes.
EW: What are you working on?
JI: I have a new record coming out this summer, called Big Dreams and High Hopes. It started with my speech last year at the ACMs. Oh the synergy. But it’s the way I feel about a lot of what’s going on in my career. That’s what you have to have. And that’s all you have to have.
EW: Do you miss kicking around the small clubs in Texas?
JI: No. Cause I still get to. That’s the thing about Texas. Willie Nelson still plays the same clubs he played in 1975, and I have every intention of going from stadiums to clubs. [He looks at what I just typed.] And you can put “and back to stadiums” in parentheses. I didn’t mean the clubs as an end destination.
EW: Who do you like for Entertainer of the Year?
JI: Has anybody unseated Kenny as the king of stadiums yet? I don’t have a dog in the fight, so whatever. I think Kenny will probably win.
EW: Okay. This interview is over, because there’s a dress that I can’t talk about on stage.
7:37 The dress, it should be noted, is well worth the secrecy.
7:45 Carrie is now dressed in a yellow-striped top and blue jeans — which I assume are fair game — and is using her pipes of steel to wail away on the poor Randy Travis song. She is actually pulling back on the verses, closing her eyes and singing intently into her bedazzled microphone, and even though I really do not much care for her version of this hit-that-defined-my-lonesome-teenage-years, she does, as usual, sound damn good.
7:48 Carrie’s first run-thru ends, as does my day at rehearsal. Tomorrow: Sugarland! Tim and Faith! Keith! Maybe even a little guy named King George! Stay tuned!