Luke Bryan won the top prize, entertainer of the year, at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards, accepting the honor via remote from Los Angeles, where he had just made a surprise return to his “American Idol” hosting duties after recovering from COVID-19.
Bryan had publicly announced only six days ago that he was diagnosed with the virus. Speaking to the press after the ACM Awards, Bryan said, “Certainly the key to feeling better with having COVID was I very fortunate to not have a long set of symptoms. It was still quite challenging for a couple days, but thank God for, certainly, health.”
He conceded it felt odd to win his third entertainer trophy from afar. “I had an opportunity to potentially perform on the show and then I couldn’t because of the COVID diagnosis… So I’m a little removed from being able to be in the room… My phone is literally on fire with people calling.”
Maren Morris won two awards, for female vocalist of the year and song of the year (for “The Bones”). Thomas Rhett, who tied for entertainer of the year last year with Carrie Underwood, picked up male vocalist of the year, something he hadn’t won before at the ACMs.
The awards were well spread out, with Morris the only artist to win more than one. Chris Stapleton won album of the year for “Starting Over,” and single of the year went to duet partners Carly Pearce and Lee Brice for “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”
Dan + Shay won duo of the year. Group of the year went to Old Dominion.
Bryan had been scheduled to perform on the ACMs until earlier in the week, when his appearance was canceled because of the same health reasons that his live judging duties on last Monday’s “American Idol” were scotched. The star didn’t address when he contracted or was declared free of the virus. It’s also not clear how he would have appeared on the ACMs and “Idol” live on rival networks from different cities on the same night, but some of the performances on the show were pre-recorded, and it’s possible Bryan had planned to film a number for the ACMs and then fly back to L.A before his health crisis threw everything in the air.
His wife “Caroline was nursing me back to health. I was certainly amazed to move through that,” he said.
Bryan described himself as “totally surprised and shocked” by getting entertainer this year. “You never take these things for granted, you just don’t,” he said, admitting: “There’s been some years I thought I should have won and didn’t… You can’t get caught up in one year, can’t get caught up in two years.” He described himself as wanting to get to 75 and look back on his body of work with pride without regard to which years he won awards. “I loved the years when I didn’t win because they challenged me and made me work harder… and the years I did win, you could probably go, ‘You took that for granted; that was a shame.’ The bottom line is to have your feet on firm, solid ground through all of this. When you start having success in music, you can have a year when you aren’t happy with who you are as an artist but things can happen (anyway). I think just having a level-headed approach to a scenario where you can do this for many, many years” is key, he said.
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