The CMT Music Awards made the best of the last-minute absence of co-host Kelsea Ballerini, who tested positive for COVID-19 days before Monday’s show.
Ballerini’s co-host, actor Anthony Mackie, took the stage alone at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville after opening performances on the live CBS telecast of the single “Wild Hearts” by Keith Urban and the duet “Never Say Never” by Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson.
“I know all of you were looking forward to seeing Kelsea Ballerini out here tonight on the stage, but she’s a little under the weather,” the “Avengers” actor Mackie said. “But just like the NFL has backup QBs, here at the CMA Awards, we have backup KBs.”
He then brought out his substitute “KB,” singer Kane Brown, who was summoned to help with hosting duties. Brown, who has twice hosted the show before, is the night’s biggest nominee.
Singers Thomas Rhett and Martina McBride both stood up in the audience and volunteered to help hosting, but were rebuffed.
Then Ballerini appeared on a big screen from home, decked out in a full awards-show dress in her living room.
“This is my normal Monday night, in full glam, with lighting I set up myself, and a remote truck outside,” Ballerini said. “I would so much rather be there with you, but I will be popping in all night long.”
Later in the show, Ballerini performed from her backyard, singing her new single “Heartfirst” alone with a white guitar and a mint-green sparkling mini-dress, one of many costume changes she made throughout the night.
Images of her band were projected on to a curtain hung behind her.
The Judds made their first major awards show performance in over two decades, with 76-year-old Naomi and her 57-year-old daughter Wynonna singing their signature 1990 classic “Love Can Build a Bridge.”
They were joined by a gospel choir in the performance that was pre-recorded outside the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The evening’s first award on the fan-voted show that honors the best in country music videos went to Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood, who won collaborative video of the year for their duet “If I Didn’t Love You.”
“This song has been so unbelievable this year how you guys the fans have responded to it,” Aldean said.
It was a record 24th CMT award for Underwood.
“Thank you fans. Thank you CMT, woo!” Underwood shouted.
Underwood sang her song “Ghost Story” in a pre-taped performance from her Las Vegas residency, taking flight mid-song Cirque du Soleil-style on a cloth swing hung from the ceiling.
Aldean and Brian Adams performed Adams’ 1980s hit “Heaven.”
Miranda Lambert later won her eighth CMT award, for female video of the year, for “If I Was a Cowboy.”
“I am so happy to be a part of the women of country music today,” Lambert said.
The hosting change-up wasn’t the only hiccup the show faced: lightning forced the closure of the CMT’s pink carpet before most stars arrived to have their photos taken and be interviewed.
And rain fell on part of an outdoor stage set up for some performances, though the artists mostly embraced it. Swindell and Wilson stepped under it and soaked themselves.
The show also featured performances by Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Mickey Guyton and Black Pumas and Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd.