Carrie Underwood wins country music's top award
By Dan Whitcomb
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Carrie Underwood was named entertainer of the year on Sunday at the 44th Academy of Country Music awards, securing her status as country's hottest star on a night that felt like a changing of the guards.
Underwood became only the seventh woman in 39 years to win country entertainer of the year, snapping Kenny Chesney's four-year winning streak while also receiving the trophy for top female vocalist.
"I've had a lot of good moments in the past four years. This one takes the cake," a tearful Underwood, who performed twice during the show, said in accepting her entertainer of the year award.
She was the only woman nominated for the top prize and at 26 by far the youngest, and her victory -- along with the two awards claimed by 19-year-old sensation Taylor Swift -- signaled that the next generation of country stars has arrived.
"Thank you God. I never thought I'd be nominated, I never thought I would win. I don't know what to say. I've got nothing," she said before letting out an emotional scream and spinning as she walked off stage.
Underwood, a small-town Oklahoma girl who first shot to fame by winning TV's American Idol competition in 2005, has since become country music's biggest star and achieved enormous crossover success.
"I feel like I just won American Idol all over again," she said in accepting the top female vocalist award.
Backstage, she called it an honor to be only the seventh female to win, joining such country icons as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell and the night's host, Reba McEntire.
But if it was Underwood's big night, she must have heard Swift hot on her heels.
Swift, who performed her single "You're Not Sorry" at the piano, won another of the night's bigger awards, album of the year, for her multi-platinum smash "Fearless." And she was also presented with a special "crystal milestone" trophy as the top-selling country artist for 2008.
"Oh my, thanks so much. I didn't know this was going to happen actually" Swift, who has achieved enormous crossover success, said in accepting the award.
Backstage, she pronounced herself stunned, saying: "I don't think I expected all this would ever happen to me. I wake up every day just kind of looking around and saying, 'Really?'"
Among the night's other big winners were Julianne Hough, who was first introduced to most Americans on the hit talent competition "Dancing with the Stars." Hough released her self-titled country debut in 2008 and was named top new female vocalist.
Brad Paisley won top male vocalist, Trace Atkins took home the single of the year award for his tear-jerker "You're Going to Miss This" and Rascal Flatts was named top vocal group. Sugarland won for top vocal duo.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)