Having now won 16 CMA Awards, including a trio picked up at this year's ceremony, Alan Jackson has a message he'd like to give to the academy: Get these things off me!
Both on and off stage, recalcitrant Jackson -- for whom the phrase ''aw, shucks'' might have been invented -- all but begged the Country Music Association to pass him up next year. ''I believe you've gotta support some of the acts that are coming along in country music and keep the momentum going,'' he said backstage. ''I've had a good run.… I'd just as soon they recognize some other people in the future.'' Asked what his three wins (for entertainer, male vocalist, and vocal event of the year) meant to him, Jackson wasn't about to wax sentimental. ''It means Toby's probably madder now,'' he quipped.
That would be Toby Keith, who came into the telecast a front-runner with more nominations than anyone (seven) but who went home with exactly as many trophies as his friends, the Dixie Chicks (zero). At least those two acts got nominated, which is more than Shania Twain and Faith Hill could say.
The shutout even at the nomination level of country's two biggest female sellers has been the talk of Nashville for months. But both were in attendance -- seated next to each other, no less, looking like the most beauteous not-so-sore losers club in history. Hill was obligated to show up to support hubby Tim McGraw, but observers couldn't have blamed Twain for staying home. Instead -- in a sign either that country stars are more forgiving than most, or that the highly-rated CMA telecast is too important a platform to pass up for any reason -- Twain came to sing ''Not Just a Pretty Face'' and work the red carpet. Not to be outdone in graciousness, Hill made the audacious move of handing out the female vocalist of the year award, the category in which her absence was most glaring.
Twain said her new neo-feminist single isn't an attempt to force women's issues back into country -- or tweak sensibilities -- at a time when, controversially, male country artists are vastly outperforming women. ''I don't really pay attention to the climate of all of that,'' she said backstage. ''Most of my songs are from a female perspective anyway, so it wouldn't really matter [which song was chosen].'' As for why she showed up, Twain -- who lives in Switzerland and rarely visits Music City USA -- said it's mostly good for ''bumping into people I haven't seen since last year. And I love sitting in the audience and watching the whole show. I make a good fan.''
Twain was even a good sport when Sheryl Crow grabbed her butt as they bumped into each other on the red carpet -- the grab was returned on their second encounter. ''She started it!'' Twain cheerfully insisted afterward. (Hey, it's not Britney French-kissing Madonna, but country fans have to take the girl-on-girl action they can get.)