2016 “CMT Artists of the Year”: The Return of Shania, Luke’s New Bicycle and Kelsea’s Tribute to Her Granddad

Courtesy CMT

A packed-house witnessed the triumphant return of Shania Twain during the 2016 Artists of the Year ceremony this week at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Dressed to kill in a black cleavage-baring catsuit, the Canadian superstar left no doubt why CMT was honoring her as its very first female Artist of a Lifetime, even though she never sang a note.

Florida Georgia Line kicked off the night with their latest single, “May We All,” before accepting their trophy from Nashville’s Charles Esten, who recalled performing with the duo on an episode of the show, whose new season kicks off January 5 on CMT.

Chris Stapleton stepped out alone, for an electric-guitar-fueled rendition of the Traveller track “Whiskey and You.” Accepting his award from Luke Bryan, he recalled his first major television exposure on this very show, where he filled in for the CMA Entertainer of the Year when a death in the family left him unable to perform the Stapleton-penned “Drink a Beer.”

If you watched closely, you noticed Shania singing every word to “Peter Pan,” as Kelsea Ballerini floated her latest number-one. “I love you for coming to Nashville for me,” Kelsea told her Greatest Hits co-host Arsenio Hall, who gave her the Breakout award.  “My granddad passed away this afternoon, so this is for him,” she finished.

After Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild served a road-tested take on “Home Alone Tonight,” Karen and her Little Big Town band mates brought their tourmate a kid’s bike with training wheels, suggesting Luke’s lack of skill may have contributed to his recent clavicle-breaking accident. “They do party more than me,” he countered while accepting his honor. “They’ve taught me how to beat hangovers this year!”

Olympians Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian introduced Carrie Underwood’s version of the Storyteller track “Like I’ll Never Love You Again,” accompanied by The Love Junkies, the formidable female songwriters who crafted the tune. “Ah, man! I don’t know why I’m getting teary-eyed,” the CMA Entertainer of the Year nominee said as she tried to compose herself.

Thomas Rhett thanked pop sensation Zara Larsson for flying all the way to Music City from Sweden to do a mashup of “Die a Happy Man” alongside her hit “Never Forget You,” noting she was next bound for Australia.

Carrie Underwood led the grand finale, bringing on Best New Artist Grammy winner Meghan Trainor to kick off a Shania medley with “You’re Still the One.” Kelsea Ballerini’s “Any Man of Mine” merged into R&B diva Jill Scott’s soulful take on “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.”

“Music has always been my best friend. I love dogs, but…” Shania joked as she grasped her award. “I just feel like I don’t want to get off the stage right now because I’m loving this moment.”

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