The duo won video of the year for “Hallelujah.” Underwood, who extended her record as the most decorated artist in the history of the CMT Music Awards, accepted the nod on her and Legend’s behalf.
“Thank you fans! Thank you CMT!” Underwood said. “You’re the reason we’re all here doing what we do, doing what we love (and) making music videos.”
The 23-time CMT Music Award winner also shouted out Legend, particularly for sending her the song, which appeared on her first holiday album “My Gift.” “Congratulations on what I think is your first CMT Award. Whoa!” she exclaimed.
The star-studded event kicked off from Nashville, Tenn., with a performance by Lady A. The trio was joined onstage by Carly Pearce and Lindsay Ell.
Ell stepped in after Gabby Barrett bowed out, citing “personal circumstances.”
Cameras then took viewers to a farm where Chris Stapleton performed “Arkansas.”
Following the two performances, hosts Kane Brown and Kelsea Ballerini took the stage. “After this year … I’m thirsty for a great party,” Brown said.
The first award of the night – group duo video of the year – went to Little Big Town for “Wine, Beer, Whiskey.”
“This is awesome. First of all, we’re back and making music people,” Kimberly Schlapman yelled, referring to the pandemic.
“I know you like drinking songs,” Karen Fairchild added.
The award was presented by Trace Adkins and Taylor Lewan of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, who poked fun at country music “lingo” by asking Adkins what a dobro, diminished fifth and bluegrass is – refuting the expert’s answers with silly jokes.
Lewan told Adkins that a diminished fifth was when a drinker has less whiskey than they expected and that a dobro is a friend who eats too much pizza.
Hailey Whitters then took the stage to sing her hit “Fillin’ My Cup.” Miranda Lambert also performed a stripped-down version of her hit “Tequila Does,” honoring her Texas roots. She sang around a campfire alongside Jon Randall and Jack Ingram. Luke Combs also performed.
The legendary Gladys Knight won over audience members — not wearing masks — during a performance of “Friendship Train” with Mickey Guyton. Part of the show felt dedicated to Black female voices thanks to the top notch performances by Knight, H.E.R. and Guyton, who was nominated for two awards and presented the CMT Equal Play Award to Linda Martell, one of the pioneering Black acts in country music and the first Black woman to perform solo at the Grand Ole Opry.
Martell didn’t attend the awards show but CMT aired photos of the icon holding her award and said she was watching the show from her home in South Carolina.
Comedian Iliza Shlesinger took the stage next to poke fun at country music lyrics, particularly from some of the genre’s top female artists.
She pointed out “violent” lyrics in songs from Underwood and Lambert, suggesting that a “CSI: Nashville” television show be developed based on songs like “Before He Cheats.” The remark was a reference to the long-running CBS drama “CSI” and its spinoffs, which followed crime scene investigators.
The star presented the award for collaborative video of the year, which was given to Chris Young and Brown for their tune “Famous Friends.”
Later in the evening, Stapleton and H.E.R. took the stage with a jaw-dropping collaboration. They joined forces for a smoky, thrilling performance of “Hold On,” coming off like a veteran duo. Another breathtaking collab featured Underwood and rock band NEEDTOBREATHE. Luke Bryan also rocked the house with his hit “Down to One.”
Both Maren Morris and Barrett were originally set to perform at the CMT Awards but backed out. Barrett won female video of the year and the best family feature award went to Taylor Swift’s “The Best Day (Taylor’s Version),” which was re-released this year and featured home movies starring the pop star, her brother and parents.
The show closed out with a performance of “Famous Friends” by Brown and Young.
Fox News’ Nate Day and The Associated Press contributed to this report