Swift won the night's biggest award, video of the year, for her song "Mine" thanks to her fans. Lambert took female video of the year for the life-changing song that's earned her a Grammy and the major country awards already and her new husband, Blake Shelton, was the night's only multiple winner.
Swift, who won the fan-voted entertainer of the year award at the Academy of Country Music Awards earlier this year, joined the show via live video uplink from Wisconsin where she's on tour.
"I wish I could be there, but I'm hanging out with 15,000 of my closest friends in Milwaukee," Swift said as frenzied fans screamed in the background.
Shelton and Lambert also weren't able to make it and they missed some interesting moments.
Starting with Crow's underwear. She wore a short, white skirt and sat on a stool to sing "Collide" alongside host Kid Rock. She briefly flashed the camera as she stood up.
It happened in a blink of the eye, but in the age of DVRs, the moment went viral on Twitter, something Crow acknowledged about an hour later when she and Sara Evans presented an award.
"Well, at least you were wearing underwear," Evans told Crow. "I was wearing underwear because I'm good, clean, wholesome family fun," Crow joked.
That wasn't the night's only surprising moment at an awards show known for its unlikely mashups and celebrity cross-pollination.
Swift joined Shania Twain for their pre-recorded faux movie trailer recreating "Thelma & Louise" that included guest
appearances by Donald Trump and Kenny Rogers. Justin Bieber induced tears from teenagers as he walked the red carpet with Rascal Flatts. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and "Dancing With the Stars" champion Hines Ward wore cowboy boots and shook his hips on stage.
Lady A turned in one of the night's most interesting performances. The trio opened with its record-setting single "Just a Kiss" before singer Charles Kelley jumped on the drums as the band morphed into Prince's "Kiss."
Wynonna Judd put Kid Rock in his place and taught him a little something about country on a duet of his "Hell, Yes, I'm Country." And near the end of the show, fans audibly gasped as Twain slipped and fell on her way to the stage to make an introduction.
Jason Aldean, who was shut out after earning a leading four nominations, topped off the night with a surprise version of his hip hop-infused hit "Dirt Road Anthem" with rapper Ludacris. It was a perfect end to a show that thrived on unlikely pairings.
Kid Rock, hosting for the second year, thought the song was a great illustration of where country is going.
"I've said this before: Country and hip hop aren't that far apart in spirit if you break it down," he said after the show. "They're both blues music."
Shelton, who appeared via video uplink from the set of his reality contest show "The Voice," won male video of the year for "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" and best Web video for "Kiss My Country Ass." Sugarland kicked off the night with the first win, taking duo video of the year for "Stuck Like Glue."
Lady Antebellum won group video of the year for "Hello World." The Band Perry won breakthrough video for "If I Die Young." Jimmy Buffett and Zac Brown won best CMT performance of the year for "Margaritaville." And pop heartthrob Bieber added a CMT belt buckle to the pile of trophies he's won in the last year, taking home best collaboration with Rascal Flatts for "That Should Be Me."
Long a fan of Rascal Flatts, Bieber drew some of the night's biggest cheers from the crowd in a corridor of the arena, where the red carpet was moved to avoid oppressive temperatures near 100. One of the night's largest entourages included Rascal Flatts singer Gary LeVox's daughters, 10-year-old Brittany and 8-year-old Brooklyn, who were clearly smitten with the teen sensation.
"If I wanted to go home, I had no choice but to bring them," LeVox said.