LAS VEGAS (AP) -- "The House That Built Me" took home the Academy of Country Music's song of the year award Sunday night, giving the Miranda Lambert hit a clean sweep of the major country music awards.
Written by Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas, the song is special to Lambert because it mirrors a difficult time in her life. Those times are over and the song has helped Lambert's star rise to new heights; it was awarded a Grammy for best country song and the Country Music Association's song of the year award as well.
The song helped Lambert, the night's top individual nominee with seven, to a fast start. She shared in the song award, and "The House That Built Me" also earned her video of the year, announced before the show.
The Band Perry claimed the best new artist award moments after singing their hit "If I Die Young."
Brad Paisley kicked off the ACMs with a little help from friends: Three members of the iconic group Alabama joined Paisley on his new song "Old Alabama," bringing the crowd at the MGM Grand to its feet Sunday night. It was one of several big collaborations scheduled for the night: Moments later, Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood rocked out to "Undo It" the segued to the Aerosmith classic "Walk This Way."
The show opened with co-host Blake Shelton singing a slow song to what appeared to Lambert, his fiance. But as the camera panned in on a blonde draped over a couch, it revealed the show's other co-host, Reba McEntire in a blonde wig.
"All right, Blake," she said, "that's enough rehearsing for your wedding night. We've got a show to do. Focus!"
McEntire and Shelton showed immediate chemistry as they traded wisecracks. McEntire is an experienced veteran after 13 years as host and invited him to join her this year.
"Blake and I have decided there will be no Charlie Sheen jokes, no Lindsay Lohan jokes and no jokes about celebrity scandals," Reba said, " ... so good night everybody!"
The entertainer of the year category is the most prestigious award, and with fans voting for it, it's especially hard to predict. Neither Carrie Underwood nor Kenny Chesney — winners of the last six entertainer awards — are nominated this year. And only Toby Keith, a nominee and two-time winner, has taken home the ACM's top award. Paisley, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban have won the competing Country Music Association artist of the year awards, but have yet to breakthrough in Sin City. Jason Aldean, like Lambert a rising star, also is a first-time nominee.
Chesney, who isn't in Las Vegas because of his tour, will have a large presence at the show nonetheless. The four-time entertainer of the year winner isn't nominated in that category after taking a year off from touring, but Chesney is up for five awards. He's vying for his first album of the year award for "Hemingway's Whiskey" and he's also up for male vocalist. Lady Antebellum, which took five Grammy awards earlier this year, is up for three ACMs.
Zac Brown of the Zac Brown band is actually the night's leading nominee, though his nine nominations are split between his band and his work as a producer and a composer, so he doesn't have as many individual nominations as Lambert.
The band and Alan Jackson took home the other pre-show award, vocal event of the year for their collaboration on "As She's Walking Away."