Yeehaw! In honor of the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards on Sept. 16, 2020, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at the biggest scandals in country music, starting with this eyebrow-raiser… Back in September 2012, Jason Aldean was caught by paparazzi kissing "American Idol" contestant Brittany Kerr. The problem? He was married to his high school sweetheart, Jessica Ussery, at the time. Jason apologized and he and Jessica put on a united front, but that only lasted a few months and they soon filed for divorce. Jason and Brittany got together shortly after (which only fanned the flames of scandal) but the two seem in it for the long haul: They got married in March 2015 and have since welcomed two kids together. Keep reading for more country music scandals…
Shania Twain was supposed to have a fairy-tale marriage, and maybe she did… eventually. The story was tabloid heaven: Shania was married to big-time music producer Mutt Lange (pictured) for more than 14 years. In 2008, they separated after he allegedly cheated on her with her best friend and assistant, Marie-Anne Thiebaud. Marie-Anne's marriage to Nestle exec Frederic Thiebaud also imploded at the time. Well, wouldn't you know it, Shania ended up marrying Frederic!
It all started with a statement to a London audience in 2003 from Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines — who in 2020, along with her bandmates, changed their name to The Chicks: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," she told the crowd, referring to President George W. Bush, ahead of America's impending invasion of Iraq. This comment came not long after she'd criticized Toby Keith for his pseudo-9/11 anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," saying it made country music sound "ignorant." The swipe against the president, though, was a bigger obstacle, as fans and radio stations boycotted the Chicks' music, claiming they were, for all intents and purposes, un-American. In 2006, the group released "Not Ready To Make Nice" as a response to the controversy. The song won three Grammys.
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In June, 2020, Chase Rice came under fire after he held a concert that failed to follow social distancing protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a clip posted to his Instagram page, the country singer showcased fans singing along without masks while standing next to one another at the Tennessee show as he belted out his hit song "Eyes on You." While TMZ initially reported that 4,000 people attended the show at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, one of Chase's reps told Wonderwall.com that the number of those in attendance was lower. "While the venue that normally holds 10,000 was capped at 4,000 capacity, there were [less than] 1,000 fans actually in attendance," said his rep. Stars took to social media to express their disdain for Chase's actions. "Imagine being selfish enough to put thousands of people's health at risk, not to mention the potential ripple effect, and play a NORMAL country concert right now," Kelsea Ballerini wrote on Twitter. "@ChaseRiceMusic, We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait."
Once upon a time, Wynonna Judd said that "failures and successes are necessary for learning." And when it comes to her love life, nothing could be more true. Wynonna is now at the point now where she can savor her love-life success, as she's happily married to musician Cactus Moser. But she experienced a devastating failure first: In 2003, she wed former bodyguard D.R. Roach. In 2007, scandal erupted when her husband was arrested for alleged sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. She filed for divorce five days later.
In May 2005, country star Kenny Chesney and actress Renee Zellweger said "I do." Just 128 days later, they had their marriage annulled. Renee filed legal docs in Los Angeles, citing "fraud" as the reason for the split. Fraud. For years since, gay rumors have circled Kenny. "That is the most unbelievable thing in the world. 'Because Renee cited fraud, Kenny's got to be gay.' What guy who loves girls wouldn't be angry about that s—?" he told Playboy several years later. "I didn't sign up for that. I think people need to live their lives the way they want to, but I'm pretty confident in the fact that I love girls. I've got a long line of girls who could testify that I am not gay."
While they're now one of Hollywood's most beloved couples, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman's relationship wasn't always picture perfect. After meeting at an event in Los Angeles in 2005, they soon began dating and married in June 2006. However, less than four months after tying the knot, Keith checked into rehab after Nicole staged an intervention. "I caused the implosion of my fresh marriage," the country music star told Rolling Stone in 2016. "It survived, but it's a miracle it did. I was spiritually awoken with her. I use the expression 'I was born into her,' and that's how I feel. And for the first time in my life, I could shake off the shackles of addiction."
Blake Shelton met Miranda Lambert when they performed on CMT's "100 Greatest Duets Concert" in 2005. He was smitten. The problem? He was also married. His first marriage didn't last long after he met Miranda, as he filed for divorce. "I've never had that kind of experience with anybody," he said on an episode of "Behind the Music." "I was a married guy, you know? Standing up there and singing with somebody and going, 'Man, this shouldn't be happening.' Looking back on that, I was falling in love with her, right there on stage." He and Miranda started their romance right after that and they eventually got married. They divorced in 2015 and just a few months later, he moved on with his "The Voice" co-star Gwen Stefani.
Miranda Lambert found herself the subject of gossip in 2018 thanks to her relationship with Turnpike Troubadours singer Evan Felker. That spring, reports revealed that Evan was still married to wife Staci Nelson when he took up with Miranda — who may or may not have still been in a relationship with musician Anderson East — when Evan's band joined Miranda's tour as an opening act in early 2018. As speculation about the origins of Miranda and Evan's romance emerged, Miranda's ex-husband, Blake Shelton, seemingly weighed in with an April 2018 tweet that read: "Been taking the high road for a long time.. I almost gave up. But I can finally see something on the horizon up there!! Wait!! Could it be?! Yep!! It's karma!!" Miranda and Evan's relationship was over by August 2018, around the same time Evan's divorce from Staci was finalized.
In February 2019, Miranda Lambert's surprise wedding announcement — she'd quietly married NYPD officer Brendan McLoughlin after less than three months of dating — shocked the country music world. Fans soon learned that Brendan is seven years younger than Miranda and that she met him when she was in New York City in November 2018 to perform on "Good Morning America" at the show's Times Square studios, which were near Brendan's beat. Then Brendan's messy romantic past came to light: A few days after he met Miranda, he welcomed his first child with an ex, lawyer Kaihla Rettinger. Making matters more complicated? Reports revealed that earlier in the year, he was in a long-term relationship with another woman, pro soccer player Jackie Bruno, who broke off their engagement after learning about Kaihla's pregnancy.
The interruption heard 'round the world is possibly more infamous today than it was in 2009. Taylor Swift (she was a country artist then) had just received the award for best female video at the MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye West stormed the stage while she was speaking, grabbed the mic and shouted, "Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Beyonce has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!" The feud has been played out a million times. They eventually patched things up and seemed to be on great terms, actually, until Kanye released his song "Famous" in February 2016. In it, he claimed he might have sex with Taylor, called her the B-word and took credit for her fame. Feud = back on.
Back in 1975, long before Kanye West ever rushed an MTV VMAs stage, a country singer took an even more dramatic approach to disagreeing with an award winner! At the 1975 Country Music Association Awards, Charlie Rich was on stage to announce the winner of the entertainer of the year prize. When he opened the envelope and saw that John Denver was named, he decided to set the envelope on fire. He reportedly meant it as a protest that John's music wasn't country enough. It made for one of the wildest moments in country music award show history. (John wasn't in attendance and was receiving his award via satellite, so he missed the drama.)
Country queen Gretchen Wilson found herself in trouble with the law in August 2018. The singer allegedly caused a disturbance during a flight to Windsor Locks, Connecticut. It was later reported that that disturbance was due to an altercation with another passenger onboard. Gretchen was arrested as soon as the flight landed and was charged with breach of peace after she also becoming belligerent toward police officers. Charges were later dropped after the "Redneck Woman" singer made a $500 donation to the criminal injuries compensation fund, which provides financial assistance to crime victims.
In late 2008, LeAnn Rimes met a fairly obscure actor named Eddie Cibrian when they filmed a Lifetime movie called "Northern Lights" together. They soon embarked on a real-life affair — both were married at the time — that was exposed on the cover of Us Weekly in early 2009. LeAnn divorced husband Dean Sheremet, and Eddie divorced wife Brandi Glanville, but not before details of their personal lives and the affair were plastered all over the internet and magazines across the world. LeAnn and Eddie tied the knot in 2011 and she became a stepmother to his and Brandi's two boys. For years, media outlets played LeAnn and Brandi against each other, although often for good reason since they had a long history of social media feuding, though the women have made nice in recent years.
Garth Brooks is no stranger to a cheating scandal. In a 1993 interview with Barbara Walters, the "Friends in Low Places" hitmaker admitted that he'd been unfaithful to then-wife Sandy Mahl (whom he married in 1986). According to the country singer, he and Sandy made up after he "wore out a pair of jeans while I was down on my knees begging her to take me back." Their reconciliation didn't last long, though — by 2000, they'd filed for divorce. Garth went on to marry fellow country singer and actress Trisha Yearwood in 2005.
This could be the biggest scandal in country music history, and you've probably never heard of it: Spade Cooley was the self-proclaimed King of Western Swing in the '50s. He also hosted a popular TV show. His downfall came on April 3, 1961, when he killed his estranged wife, savagely beating her to death. The murder took place in front of the couple's daughter, who testified against her father in a sensational trial. Somehow, he only served eight years in prison before being released. In 1969, he performed a charity concert. While backstage after the show, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.
In June 2019, Taylor Swift sounded off on Tumblr about her personal "worst case scenario" when her master recordings were sold by her former record label to music manager Scooter Braun. "All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I've received at his hands for years," the country-turned-pop star wrote of Scooter. Taylor further explained she felt betrayed and blindsided by Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta (pictured), the man who did the deal with Scooter. She'd worked with Scott closely for years, so her contentious relationship with Scooter, she claimed, was no secret. Scott responded with his own post, claiming that Taylor was lying about being blindsided, adding that he'd texted her about the deal before it was announced. With the former country music darling's early works now in the hands of her perceived enemy, she vowed to re-record all of her classic albums.
Nashville's Grand Ole Opry is country music's most famous stage. But did you know it once banned one of the genre's biggest names? After drunkenly breaking the floor lights on the stage with a microphone stand in 1965, Johnny Cash was banished from the venue. Fortunately, it didn't last forever — or even for a decade. By 1969, he'd graced the Opry stage once more and continued to perform and host TV specials from the famous venue.
For years, Willie Nelson thought he had seven children. It turns out he actually had eight. In his 2012 autobiography, Willie revealed the he had a secret family spanning three generations that he never knew existed. "I have an old, dear friend, Mary Haney, who I'd lost touch with but recently met again after decades," he wrote. "Turns out Mary and I had a child together called Renee. It also turns out Renee has a daughter, Noelle, who has a daughter, Jordan, who I am happy to now call my great-granddaughter. My newly discovered family sure took some time to surface."
Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" is a classic love song. But surprisingly, the story behind the song wasn't quite as romantic. She allegedly penned the tune for Porter Wagoner, the country singer who hosted "The Porter Wagoner Show," who helped her get her start on his TV program. The duo's relationship eventually went sour, as Dolly left his band in 1974 and he subsequently sued her for $3 million for breach of contract (though they eventually settled out of court). She would later describe him to the Los Angeles Times as a "male chauvinist pig," though they eventually reconciled. Dolly was at his bedside when he passed away in 2007.
It's LeAnn Rimes, again. In 2000 when she was 17, the child star sued her father and former co-manager, alleging the two men had swindled at least $7 million from her over a span of five years. Her dad counter-sued. Somehow, the two were able to eventually get past their differences. "My dad and I have been through a lot together and we've come out the other side of it with a relationship. It's pretty amazing," LeAnn said in 2014.
On March 31, 2007, outlaw country artist Billy Joe Shaver stopped by a Waco, Texas, bar to get a drink. He ended up shooting a man in the face. In 2010, he was on trial for aggravated assault. On the stand, Billy admitted to the shooting, but said he did it in self-defense. The singer said the victim (before he was shot) stirred his drink with a pocket blade. He then wiped it on the singer's shirt and asked him to come outside. "I felt he was gonna kill me," Billy testified. "He was a big bully, the worst I ever seen — a big, bad one. And I been all around the world." Billy — who's written songs for Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley — was found not guilty.
For 22 years, Hank Williams Jr. was known for one line: "Are you ready for some football?" The country singer had his hits, yes, but for two decades he provided the opening song for "Monday Night Football." That was, until he compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. His intro to the primetime game was pulled immediately. In an appearance on Fox News' "Fox and Friends," Hank referred to a golf game that the president and then-House Speaker John Boehner had played against Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as "one of the biggest political mistakes ever." Asked what he didn't like about it, he said, "Come on, come on. That'd be like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Okay. Not hardly." He later apologized, but the damage had been done.
On Jan. 1, 1953, country music lost a bright star in Hank Williams, though nearly seven decades later, there are still conspiracies surrounding his death — namely that it wasn't accidental. According to wife Billie Jean, just two days prior to his death, Hank predicted his own passing, telling her, "I think I see God comin' down the road." While officials stated that Hank's death was being a result of heart failure, many still believe his passing was more mysterious than that. Conflicting reports alleged that Hank's body showed signs of a struggle and that a soldier was seen in the backseat with him before he died while others believe the country star died at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, and not in a car as had initially been reported.
Randy Travis was arrested for public intoxication in February 2012. About six months later, police busted him again, but this time, the headlines were much more sensational: The country legend was found naked, drunk and passed out in the middle of the street near his Trans Am, which had been crashed in a nearby ditch. Days after that incident, he got into a fight with a man in a church parking lot. In early 2013, he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and got probation and rehab time. But that summer, things took a turn for the worse: Randy was hospitalized with a heart issue and suffered a devastating stroke a few days later. Although he survived, he's had to re-learn to walk and play guitar as his recovery continues.
In 2017, People magazine crowned Blake Shelton that year's "Sexiest Man Alive." But shortly afterward, fans pointed out that the country singer and "The Voice" coach had posted some sketchy things on Twitter in the past. Some of his least offensive (and since-deleted) tweets in poor taste include: "Questions for my gay followers….Are skittles y'alls favorite candy?" and "Standing in line at a coffee shop in LA talking with the man in front of me. He orders a skinny caramel latte. I couldn't tell he was gay!!!" as well as "Nothing says 'Happy 4th of July' like a airport shuttle bus driver that can't speak a F—— word of English!!! To the terminal Omar!!!!" Most of the tweets were from many years earlier, but fans were still not thrilled to discover this side of Blake. He'd previously taken to social media to apologize and explain when his tweets first made headlines in 2016: "Everyone knows comedy has been a major part of my career and it's always been out there for anyone to see. That said anyone that knows me also knows I have no tolerance for hate of any kind or form," he wrote. "Can my humor at times be inappropriate and immature? Yes. Hateful? Never. That said I deeply apologize to anybody who may have been offended."