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Top 10 Unforgettable Country Music Awards Moments

VO: Lisa Yang
There have been a handful of controversial and memorable moments that have happened on the CMA stage! The Country Music Awards always brings out the biggest country stars and these events definitely went down in CMA award history! We’re talking about Dolly Parton’s Split Dress, Reba McEntire’s Low-Cut Dress, Alan Jackson Pays Homage to George Jones, Faith Hill’s Faux Freakout, Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton Duet and more!
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Top 10 Unforgettable Country Music Awards Moments


On the CMA stage, country artists pay respects and play it up for camera. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Unforgettable Country Music Awards Moments.

For this list, we’re focusing solely on the Country Music Association Awards, and the moments that kept people talking.


#10: Dolly Parton’s Split Dress
(1978)


Over the first nine years of her recording career, Dolly Parton received 20 CMA nominations, including five wins. For her biggest victory though – the 1978 Entertainer of the Year - a wardrobe malfunction distracted from her big moment. In typical Dolly fashion, however, she capitalizes on the situation by delivering an oh-golly kind of speech. Dolly proved why audiences just couldn’t take their eyes off her that year, as she owned the stage with her charisma, beauty and grace under pressure, even with her customized dress split at the seams.

#9: Blake Shelton Shines
(2012)


After Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton co-wrote the country ballad “Over You,” only one of them appeared on the final recording. With the song based on the death of Shelton’s own brother, he deemed it too personal to perform. So, when the duo won “Song of the Year” at the 2012 CMAs, it was an emotional moment for the husband and wife, with Miranda stepping aside for Blake to explain the backstory. It’s one of those revelatory awards show speeches, as both artists let their guard down and express thanks while reflecting on their bittersweet journey.


#8: Reba McEntire’s Low-Cut Dress
(1993)


When Reba took the stage for a dramatic performance of “Does He Love You,” her goal was to capture the spirit of romantic competition. But while her voice alone can leave people speechless, it was her revealing red dress that stole the show. Staged against a purple backdrop, Reba obviously stands out with her monochromatic look, even more so with her plunging neckline. No, Reba didn’t win a single CMA award in 1993, but she owned the stage, both with her exquisite singing and sizzling style.


#7: Alan Jackson Pays Homage to George Jones
(1999)


Near the end of his career, the iconic George Jones made headlines for his poignant cover of the song “Choices.” But when the CMAs asked George to perform a shortened rendition, he refused out of principle alone. As a sign of respect, Alan Jackson altered his CMA performance of “Pop a Top,” transitioning into the familiar chorus of “Choices.” Whereas many artists use the stage to speak out on certain subjects, Jackson took a symbolic approach in 1999; a move that reportedly left George Jones in tears as he watched from home.


#6: Faith Hill’s Faux Freakout
(2006)


After winning Season 4 of “American Idol,” Carrie Underwood seamlessly transitioned into country music, even winning the 2006 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award. But it was Faith Hill’s on-camera reaction that overshadowed the moment, as her freak-out initially appeared to be authentic. Yet Faith later explained that she was merely joking around, and a closer look at the video shows that she probably did it for laughs. Even so, it was the perfect pop culture moment for Internet gossipers, as a typically mild-mannered singer seemed to throw shade at a rising star.


#5: Flirty Shania Twain
(1995)


When Shania Twain opened up the 1995 CMAs, she was still a relatively new artist in a traditionally conservative genre. But with her flirtatious “Any Man of Mine” performance, she pushed back against country norms and literally tousled the hair of a legend. Shania displays undeniable charisma and poise, but it’s her black lace outfit that emphasizes her sex appeal and commercial viability. She’d soon evolve into a crossover s, and considering the watered-down country scene of 1995, this moment essentially announced a new era and a new kind of star.


#4: Luke Bryan Fights Back Tears
(2013)


Although Luke Bryan didn’t write the lyrics to his country balled “Drink a Beer,” he’s had a strong personal connection to the lyrical content. In 1996, he lost his brother Chris in a car accident, and later, in 2007, lost his sister Kelly. So, during Luke’s stripped down performance at the 2013 CMAs, emotions were on high. For the most part, he holds it together - at least until the final verse. For an already beloved country artist like Luke Bryan, this moment endeared him to fans even more, as he remembered his late siblings with a touching performance.


#3: Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton Duet
(2015)


“The Nashville Sound meets the Soul of Memphis.” By 2015, Tennessee native Justin Timberlake had grown out of his boy band persona by transitioning into a truly versatile musician. Even so, his CMA duet with emerging star Chris Stapleton was a bit of a surprise, as the duo joined forces for a soulful rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey,” followed by a lively rendition of JT’s “Drink You Away.” The moment brought together a trendy name with a traditional country singer, and the results were nothing less than extraordinary, as both artists transcended above labels and delivered the goods.


#2: Charlie Rich on Fire
(1975)


By the end of the 1975 CMAs, reigning Entertainer of the Year Charlie Rich had already won Best Country Male Artist. With that being said, he seemed a bit agitated, evidenced by a controversial move that would leave him banned from future shows. It remains a mystery as to WHY Charlie Rich would seemingly diss John Denver, though it’s been speculated that he wasn’t exactly thrilled about the direction of country music. Whatever the case, his bizarre reaction is a classic CMA moment, as he literally and figuratively lit up the CMA stage.


Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Taylor Swift Becomes Youngest Artist to Win Entertainer of the Year –
(2009)


Garth Brooks Wins Entertainer of the Year at 50th CMA Awards
(2016)

#1: Johnny Cash Tribute
(2003)


Just two months after his death, the late Johnny Cash won Album of the Year at 2003 CMAs. But while the recognition alone made people smile, so did an epic “Man in Black” tribute featuring a stage full of country legends. The moment transcended the typical CMA performance, as many were still mourning Cash but knew that they had to do him right. When all was said and done, the tribute proved to be more of a celebration than a somber farewell - a perfect representation of the country music family.

So, do you agree with our list? What is your favorite Country Music Awards moment? For more rockin’ Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.
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