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The 2018 CMA Awards: The Moments That Will Have Everyone Talking

From jaw-dropping performances to moving speeches and killer collaborations, the 2018 CMA Awards did not disappoint.

Written by Annie Reuter and Alison Abbey
The 2018 CMA Awards: The Moments That Will Have Everyone Talking
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 14: (FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 52nd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 14, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

From jaw-dropping performances to moving speeches and killer collaborations, the 2018 CMA Awards did not disappoint. Here’s our list of memorable moments from the evening.

TR Brings His Song to ‘Life’

Thomas Rhett’s latest single “Life Changes” came visibly to life during a spirited performance. Kicking off the song onstage in a makeshift dorm room, the singer brought the audience back to his college days where he had a “notebook full of bad songs I was writing.” Moments later, he left the set to find himself alongside a horn section and by the time the song’s chorus hit, Brentwood’s Ravenwood High School Marching Band joined in. As he walked past his wife seated in the crowd and gave her a hug, he got visibly choked up while singing of the day he “told my Daddy and Mama you’re gonna have a grandkid from Uganda.” TR’s “Life Changes” performance brought all the feels and standout musicianship to boot. -AR

Lauren Alaina Schools Us All

Lauren Alaina may have only sang a snippet of Dottie West’s “A Lesson In Leavin'” in honor of the late singer’s induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but it ranks among one of the night’s best performances. Before cameras even panned to Alaina, who was wearing a stunning purple gown on stage, viewers were captivated by her mesmerizing vocals. With a belt that would make West proud, Alaina once again proved her staying power. We just wish they would have kept her on air longer. -AR

Carrie Brings the Love

Carrie Underwood’s performance of her impactful new single “Love Wins” was an ethereal dream. As if her mesmerizing vocals weren’t inspiring enough, the backdrop engulfed the stage in a tapestry of colors that helped bring her lyrics to life. “In these trying times, we need to hear that love wins,” Brad Paisley said when he introduced his friend’s performance. Underwood’s hopeful message inspired, and backed by singers that embodied that of a gospel choir, “Love Wins” was a standout moment. At the close of the song, Underwood and her choir lifted their hands up in the air in unison to form hearts — once again bringing the song’s poignant point home.-AR

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Midland Pays Tribute to The Bandit

There was perhaps no better trio to pay homage to one of the South’s most beloved anti-heroes than Midland. The “Drinking Problem” performers took to the stage in tribute to the late Burt Reynolds by way of an arena-rocking rendition of “East Bound and Down,” the theme from Reynolds’ beloved 1977 classic “Smokey and the Bandit.” Lead Singer Mark Wystrach’s mustache and sunglasses could have been tribute enough, but the rollicking performance–complete with footage from the film and split screen guitar battles–had the crowd on their feet for a standing ovation. A reaction that would have made the show-off-loving Bandit proud. -AA

Kacey is the Golden Girl

As Little Big Town tore open the envelope with the name of the Album of the Year winner inside, Karen Fairchild uttered a hint as to its contents. Noting the win was for “all the little girls writing songs out there,” she announced Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour for the win. Musgraves took the stage in her custom Versace suit–a modern take on the Texas style that has influenced her entire career–and thanked her family, colleagues and husband (Ruston Kelly) and her adopted hometown. “Ten years ago today I moved to Nashville,” she said before adding of the album: “We poured everything that we have into this and I’m so proud of it. I’m inspired by this beautiful universe and most of all love.” Later in the show Musgraves channeled Crystal Gayle meets American Bandstand realness with a soft and sultry performance of “Slow Burn” from the album, complete with lens flaring spotlights, a red curtain (and red velvet slip dress) and acoustic guitar.-AA

The Softer Side of FGL

Florida Georgia Line teamed up with Bebe Rexha to perform their 50-week No. 1 hit “Meant to Be” and it was one of the most surprising moments of the night. Instead of bringing the original version continually heard on pop and country stations throughout 2018 to the stage, the duo dramatically switched gears. Dressed in white from head to toe, FGL’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard kicked off the pared down track. When it was time for Rexha’s verse, she appeared like an apparition beside a white upright piano and the dance track immediately transformed into a powerful ballad, complete with a string section. Whether intentional or not, it felt a fitting way to put a period on the exclamatory year the song has had. -AR

Garth’s Love Song

Garth Brooks debuted a brand new song during the show and it was one of the most heartfelt moments of the night. Titled “Stronger Than Me,” he dedicated the touching ballad to his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and it had all the workings of a wedding song. Alone with his acoustic guitar in hand, Brooks praised his bride for being “stronger than me.” “I know I always thought I had to have the answers / Be her strength and take the leap / When it comes to anything that really matters / You’re stronger than me,” he sang as his wife looked on with tears in her eyes. “If I had a choice I’d pray to God he takes me first /’Cause you’re stronger than me,” he conceded. In an arena full of people, it was as if they were the only two in the room.- AR

Soul Patrol

Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, Mavis Staples, Marty Stuart and Morgane Stapleton took Bridgestone Arena to church during an inspired performance. They kicked the set off with “Friends,” a track featured on Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1, originally recorded by Pops Staples. The all-star collaboration highlighted each singer’s powerful and soulful vocals. While Staples’ guttural belt had the audience screaming along, Morris held her own on the song with her sultry take. Following “Friends,” the group continued with a spirited performance of “I’ll Take You There.” Backed by a gospel choir and horn section, the performance transcended the awards show to a higher power and brought the house down. – AR