Lambert won three awards, including album of the year, on her 27th birthday and her fiance Shelton grabbed two. But an emotional Paisley, a young gun who's grown up in front of everyone's eyes, walked away with the coveted entertainer of the year award after five years of waiting.
"My hero Little Jimmy Dickens has a saying, that is if you see a turtle on a fencepost it had help getting up there and I'm the turtle on the fencepost at this point," Paisley said.
Country's "it" couple this year after their spring engagement, Lambert and Shelton cleaned up while winning their first CMA awards. Lambert won female vocalist of the year, album of the year for "Revolution" and video of the year for "The House That Built Me," which also scored song of the year for songwriters Tom Douglas and Allan Shamblin.
And Shelton won music event of the year for "Hillbilly Bone" with Trace Adkins before ending Brad Paisley's string of three straight male vocalist awards.
The reaction around their night was festive.
"Ooooh, shake it up CMA," Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles said as she watched Shelton on his way to the stage after winning male vocalist.
And Paisley, who hosted the show with Carrie Underwood, joked: "After the night that Blake and Miranda are having, I think we can expect a baby in about nine months."
Lambert was the center of the show in many ways. She led all nominees with nine, performed "That's The Way That the World Goes Round" and joined Loretta Lynn and Sheryl Crow for a rendition of Lynn's classic "Coal Miner's Daughter."
Lynn handed her the female vocalist trophy.
"I'm proud that I can now call her a friend," she said before turning to Lynn. Thank you so much," she said as she started to cry, "Thank you for everything you've done." She then shouted, "Thank you, Reba," and waved at an emotional Reba McEntire.
A few minutes later during a backstage interview, Lynn hailed Lambert: "Nobody in country music is more country than Miranda."
Shelton, who has long felt like an outsider in Nashville, gave Lambert a bear hug after his name was announced for male vocalist. He then stomped on each step as he walked up to the stage. McEntire, wife of Shelton's manager, Narvel Blackstock, openly cried as Shelton made his way to the stage.
"It's about 34 years worth of steps right there for me, y'all," Shelton said. "This is a really big deal for me."
Hailed by critics and musicians as the best album of the year, "Revolution" completed a sweep of major country music awards Lambert's 27th birthday.
"'Revolution' truly has caused a revolution in my life this year," Lambert said.
Lambert has been front and center in Nashville since appearing on "Nashville Star" in 2003, finishing third, and her previous albums "Kerosene" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" were well received. But "Revolution," released in September 2009, took her to a different level of the atmosphere.
She landed her first No. 1 songs, "White Liar" and "The House That Built Me," took three trophies at The Academy of Country Music Awards in April, including album of the year, and recently reached 1 million in sales.
The album is a lot like Lambert - sassy, refreshingly honest, and a heck of a good time. Critics loved the CD, but so did her fellow musicians. That led to a record for the most nominations for a woman in the 44-year history of the CMAs and the second most overall. Both of her No. 1 hits were nominated in two categories, song and single of the year.
Lady Antebellum had nothing to be blue about, riding their hit "Need You Now" to wins for single of the year and vocal group. The hit song about late-night hookups helped Lady A sell 3 million albums so far this year.
"Thank you to my brother, Josh Kelley, for making me to move to Nashville six years ago, I love you," Lady A vocalist Charles Kelley said after his band took single of the year.
Charles Kelley made the journey with his good buddy Dave Haywood and the two met Hillary Scott a short time later. The rest has been nonstop success with their second album, "Need You Now," selling more than 3 million copies this year.
The Zac Brown Band won new artist of the year and Sugarland took vocal duo of the year. The festivities also attracted Gwyneth Paltrow, who joined Vince Gill to perform the song "Country Strong" from an upcoming movie.
Hosts Paisley and Carrie Underwood joined Keith Urban to kick off the show with "Songs Like This" before the hosts returned to poke lighthearted fun at the stars and current events.
"Nashville had a flood and it barely made news," they sang, "while up through the gulf came a bubbling crude."
They also made fun at Tiger Woods and Brett Favre, singing, "She caught Tiger with some tail it's plain to see, and Brett Favre has taken up photography."
Paisley has been nominated for the entertainer award every year since 2005. One of country music's top draws, he became the face of Nashville during last spring's devastating floods and spread the gospel of country music across the country with his wildly successful H2O Tour.
He took a moment to tell the crowd how his grandfather, a Buck Owens and Johnny Cash fan, urged him to play guitar because it would ensure he'd never be lonely.
"And I don't think he ever thought that it would draw 20,000 people," a tearful Paisley said.
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