Jelly Roll was the big winner at the CMT Music Awards, as the rapper-turned-country singer took home three awards as an outsider who won over fans with his confessional songs.
The tattooed Son Of A Sinner singer became emotional during the show in Austin, Texas, as he thanked the country radio industry for its acceptance and shouted out to those who felt like him.
“You can be whatever you want to be. I promise you that. I told them that I wanted to be a country singer and I am standing here at the CMT Awards with the male video of the year, baby,” he shouted.
The show, which aired on CBS, started off with a sombre tone as country singer and co-host Kelsea Ballerini read off the names of six victims of a school shooting killed Monday in Nashville, Tennessee.
She noted how she shared their pain, explaining that in 2008 she witnessed a school shooting in her hometown high school cafeteria in Knoxville and prayed for “real action” that would protect children and families.
But the show prioritised nostalgia overall as performances merged rock, blues and country straight from the heart of Texas, mixing in tributes and covers alongside newer artists and fan-favourite hit songs.
Country superstar and five-time Grammy winner Shania Twain was given the Equal Play Award, recognising her for being a “visible and vocal advocate” for diverse voices in country music.
The lyrics to the song became an undercurrent to a decades-long career of advocacy, Twain said.
“I promise I will continue to champion the many outstanding country artists that are not currently played, they are not currently streamed, toured, signed or awarded at the level they deserve,” Twain said. “I believe in an all-inclusive country music.”
“My heart is ’bout to beat right out my chest, I’ll be honest with y’all,” Wilson said after winning female video of the year, calling the hit song an anthem for surviving the “scratches, the dents and the bumps along the way”.
Co-host Kane Brown took home the last award of the night with his wife, Katelyn, winning video of the year for their duet, Thank God.
Later in the show, Ballerini took to the stage flanked by drag artists, as states across the country consider legally limiting drag show performances.
The Tennessee native sang If You Go Down (I’m Going Down Too) and danced with Kennedy Davenport, Jan Sport, Manila Luzon and Olivia Lux, all stars of the show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Collaborations took centre stage for most of the three-hour show. Country Music Hall of Famer Wynonna Judd and Ashley McBryde performed a cover of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is while heavy fog rolled over the stage and into the crowd.
Pop singer Gwen Stefani performed her No Doubt mid-1990s pop-punk hit Just A Girl alongside country singer Carly Pearce.
Carrie Underwood, the most-awarded artist in CMT history with 25 awards, performed Hate My Heart as fireworks lit up the Austin night.
Four-time Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr performed a tribute to the late Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn at the top of the show.
ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Slash of Guns N’ Roses and the Allman Brothers’ Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell wrapped the show, with singers Paul Rodgers and Cody Johnson and backup vocals from LeAnn Rimes and Judd.