The Academy of Country Music Awards generally air about a month after the Oscars, which usually doesn’t hold any particular significance. However, this year, the ACMs — Sunday night on CBS — are the first televised award ceremony after the most epic mistake in award show history, when “La La Land” was accidentally announced as best picture instead of “Moonlight,” the actual winner.
Think there will be any jokes about it at the ACMs?
“I feel like if something like that were to happen, I am definitely not giving the award back,” host Luke Bryan said in a phone interview. “If they announce me as entertainer of the year and then recant that, I’m just going to run straight to the airplane and fly home.”
“I might just steal one, actually,” added host Dierks Bentley, a frequent nominee who hasn’t won too many trophies yet.
Okay, it was probably a stretch to try to get a serious answer from the pair, especially considering that the Las Vegas-based ceremony — while a major industry event — is treated as a giant party. Bryan and Bentley, two of Nashville’s biggest stars, are hosting the show for the second year and know their job: Set a celebratory tone, keep the show moving and throw in a few not-too-mean jabs about fellow country stars during the monologue.
The odds of another winner mix-up are fairly small (“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of stuff in order to make sure that never happens,” Bryan said reassuringly), but as with all musical award shows, the attention will be on the performers. Producers say there will be around 23 performances during the three-hour broadcast, including multiple collaborations.
Duets include superstar couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill; Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood; Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris; Reba McEntire and Christian singer Lauren Daigle; Bentley and Cole Swindell; and Florida Georgia Line and the Backstreet Boys.
That’s right, the famed 1990s boy band will have a high-profile performance slot during the ceremony, as the group is featured on Florida Georgia Line’s latest single, “God, Your Mama, and Me.” The two acts are going on tour together this summer, so the appearance makes sense — though some viewers aren’t thrilled when any non-country singer performs at a country award show. (See: everyone from Beyoncé to Nick Jonas to Fall Out Boy.)
The ACMs producers are well aware that not all country fans love cross-genre performances. Still, the ultimate goal is ratings. Jack Sussman, CBS’s executive vice president of specials, music and live events, pointed to last year’s Dolly Parton and Katy Perry duet as an ideal collaboration. Perry was a huge fan of Parton’s, so the two singers had instant chemistry. Plus, pop fans tuned in to see Perry.
“It’s always a debate,” Sussman said of inviting singers from other genres on the telecast. “But our job is to grow the audience as big as we possibly can … by maintaining the integrity of the brand and staying true to the core value of the show. If we can bring more people to the party by doing something that is organic with two artists that respect each other, then we should be doing that.”
Meanwhile, Urban leads the nominations field with seven nods; he’s up for the coveted entertainer of the year prize along with Bryan, Underwood, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean. Morris and Miranda Lambert are close behind with six nominations each. Lambert, traditionally an ACM favorite, landed a solo performance slot, along with Chris Stapleton, Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini, Little Big Town and many more.
As for callbacks to the Oscars, ACMs chief executive officer Pete Fisher urges the audience to “stay tuned” for how the show will address the best picture disaster, which he calls “every award show’s biggest nightmare.” And even if something does go awry with the ACMs, it doesn’t sound like the hosts are too concerned.
“Anytime you’re doing live TV, it’s not gonna go perfectly,” Bryan said. “And that’s what makes it fun.”