LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Newcomer Jamey Johnson beat out veterans like George Strait and Brad Paisley in nabbing the first honor at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday, winning song of the year for his poignant hit about an old man looking back on his life, "Living in Color."
"Thanks to my band going in off day and producing an off record," Johnson quipped in a brief acceptance speech. Later, Rascal Flatts won the award for top vocal group of the year, their seventh in a row. Julianne Hough won top new artist.
The show began by featuring country's top superstars in a medley of hits anchored by Brooks & Dunn's "Play Something Country." It included Taylor Swift's fiery "Picture to Burn," Sugarland's "It Happens," Carrie Underwood's "All American Girl" and Rascal Flatts' "Me and My Gang."
Hosting for the 11th year, Reba McEntire cracked, "Now that's what I call a stimulus package."
Strait and Brad Paisley led all nominees with six. Paisley was linked up by video from Nashville, where his wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley is expecting their second child.
Jamie Foxx introduced Strait's performance of "Troubadour," and joked that the country scene was getting more diverse.
"Things are changing," Foxx said, mentioning his repeat appearance at the ACMs and Darius Rucker's success on the country charts. "(An) African-American singing country. Things are changing. Got a black man running the country. Things are changing. ... I mean what's next, white people going to Tyler Perry movies?"
Strait was nominated for a leading six ACMs along with Brad Paisley. Other top nominees were former Trick Pony singer Heidi Newfield and newcomer Johnson with five each, followed by Kenny Chesney and Underwood with four apiece and Keith Urban with three.
Along with Strait, nominees for entertainer of the year the night's top trophy were Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.
If Chesney wins, it would be his fifth consecutive time and tie him with Alabama for most wins in a row for the honor. If Underwood takes it, she'd become only the seventh female act to do so, putting her alongside Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and, most recently, the Dixie Chicks in 2000.
The show was to feature appearances by all five entertainer nominees as well as Trace Adkins, Lady Antebellum, Miley Cyrus, Rascal Flatts, Johnson, Miranda Lambert, McEntire, Swift and other top names. Tim McGraw was supposed to perform but abruptly pulled out of the show; a person with knowledge about the show who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter said McGraw and the ACM Awards producers had a dispute about his stage performance.
Among the celebrities on hand to help present awards will include Matthew McConaughey, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
The show aired live from the MGM Grand on CBS.
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