CMA Awards co-host Brad Paisley talks preparations, George Jones tribute, and poking fun at country-music feuds

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Image Credit: Bob D'Amico/ABC

For the sixth straight year, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will cohost the CMA Awards, airing tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. (See our predictions for who we think will win, and who we’d vote for.)

There’s a long list of performances, which include Taylor Swift collaborating with Alison Krauss and Vince Gill, Dave Grohl joining the Zac Brown Band,  and George Strait and Alan Jackson paying tribute to the late, great George Jones. Back in August, when Paisley began talking to exec producer Robert Deaton about this year’s show, one of their first conversations was about how the broadcast would honor Jones. “It ought to be the best you can have with those two doing it,” Paisley told EW last month. “They’re the heirs to the torch. If anybody’s close to the stratosphere that George Jones was cruising in, it’s them. That’s who it needs to be.”

Fans will also tune in to see what Paisley and Underwood come up with for their opening monologue. When we spoke to Paisley, he expected them to have fun with the genre’s current identity crisis, epitomized by Brown referring to Entertainer of the Year nominee and fellow performer Luke Bryan’s bro-country chart-topper ”That’s My Kind of Night” as ”the worst song I’ve ever heard.” ”You’ve got people in our industry all fired up on each side of that issue, and then you’ve got me — I’m just happy about it,” Paisley says, laughing. ”It’s like I’m this sadist when we’re writing this show. I’m like, ‘Oh, that looks painful… That’s great!” 

Everything is a potential punchline: “Dolly Parton’s in a fender bender.  The first thing I heard was, ‘She’s fine though.’ Cool. Great, because I love Dolly…. Well, I guess that’s fair game,” he said, laughing again. “It’s such a weird thing: On one hand, I’m glad the government’s not shut down, but yet I’m not. It’s horrible that the Obamacare website is such a disaster, but it’s also not that horrible because there’s a great song about that somewhere. We have all these things that we could talk about… and all I can say is, ‘Go, Miley! Keep it up.'”

With Underwood rehearsing for NBC’s Dec. 5 The Sound of Music Live!, the two worked on material by texting each other whenever they came across something that might make for good fodder. “Every time I get a text from Carrie, I picture her dressed as Maria. ‘In regards to twerking,’ and she’s dressed as a Von Trapp writing that,” Paisley said. “I was like, ‘I’ll get out in lederhosen [at the CMAs], I don’t care.’ But I don’t know how ABC will feel about that. We’ll see.”

Stay tuned to EW.com tonight for extensive coverage of the show, including performances, fashion, the winners’ list, and more.

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