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Mark Brickley: Taylor-Made Country Music Awards

Teen sensation Taylor Swift takes center stage and top honors, winning Entertainer of the Year and other awards

Completing her meteoric rise to the top of the Billboard charts, 19-year-old country-music singer Taylor Swift was named Entertainer of the Year during Wednesday night’s Country Music Awards broadcast on ABC.

To receive the CMA’s top award, an artist not only must sell millions of albums but also have that “it” factor. Swift appears mature beyond her years and has built a strong buzz. Her recipe for success has included her unique songwriting ability, constant touring, strong Facebook following and Twitter blogging.

Swift opened the live broadcast with a dazzling, tightly choreographed — perhaps over the top — rendition of “Always and Forever,” a mega hit from her album “Fearless,” named CMA Album of the Year.

Swift thanked her fans, and said the songs were like reading her diary. Later she played an acoustic version of “Fifteen” as dozens of teenage girls swayed to the sing-along lyrics: “When you’re 15 / someone tells you they love you / you’ve got to believe them / but don’t forget to look before you fall.”

She also was named Female Vocalist of the Year, which she won over established stars such as Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Faith Hill, proving it’s tough to face a teen with the talent and fan base of Swift.

The annual CMAs usually showcase stratospheric vocal performances by many of country music’s biggest stars. Occasionally, viewers are presented with the uncomfortable blemishes of poorly rehearsed songs or missed notes. Kenny Chesney proved that Wednesday night by singing out of tune and failing to reach the high solo notes of “I’m Alive” with duet partner Dave Matthews.

Perhaps the biggest nonsurprise was black crossover artist Darius Rucker receiving the New Artist Award. Rucker proved he can flat-out sing and entertain, performing his hit “Alright.” Maybe his success will encourage the country-music industry to sign new black and Latino artists.

Brad Paisley and co-emcee Carrie Underwood were easy on the eyes and employed cool, self-deprecating humor to keep the audience entertained. They even brought up Little Jimmy Dickens of the Grand Ole Opry to help parody Kanye West’s horrific MTV award show antics.

As artists, Paisley and Underwood could learn from each other’s strengths. Paisley’s flawless guitar prowess was highlighted during “Welcome to the Future.” But his voice lacks both definition and emotion. There are few in the business who can approach Underwood’s vocal range and purity. Her voice is as brilliant as a multifaceted gemstone. She proved that as she changed costumes yet again to sing “Casanova Cowboy.” Unfortunately, Underwood’s musical mix appears headed to a Las Vegas showroom. She could use some of Paisley’s songwriting gems.

Lady Antebellum was named the top CMA Vocal Group. They played to sold-out crowds at the 2009 Paso Robles Mid-State Fair. Antebellum recognized the talents of duo Brooks & Dunn, who have announced that their long musical partnership is ending. Look for a Brooks & Dunn reunion tour down the line.

Other satisfying CMA performances included Tim McGraw’s satirical “Southern Boys” and Keith Urban’s country-rock ballad “Till Summer Comes Around.”

In the end, Taylor had the last laugh. She took a not-so-subtle swipe at West, saying, “Thanks to everyone in the entire room for not running up on the stage tonight.”

Noozhawk contributor Mark Brickley is a freelance writer in Carpinteria.

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