ACM Awards: Lainey Wilson, Dua Lipa, Chris Stapleton highlight the night's top moments

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Small-town Louisiana native Lainey Wilson's victory as Entertainer of the Year at the 59th Academy of Country Music Awards highlighted a night of achievements heralding next-level success for many country music stars.

Also, performers like Song of the Year winner Jordan Davis ("Next Thing You Know") and Album of the Year winner Chris Stapleton (2023's "Higher") were rewarded for their ability to apply a blue-collar work ethic to a genre with unprecedented commercial potential.

Also, it was the first of likely many nights where a decade's worth of pop superstars' honest adoration of country music's songwriting was reflected on the genre's biggest stage.

Yes, that was over 50 million single-selling global superstar Dua Lipa, 100 million digital single-selling artist Post Malone and emerging, multi-platinum-selling folk-pop crooner Noah Kahan on the Academy of Country Music Awards stage in Dallas' suburbs.

After winning his award for Music Event of the Year for his collaboration with Wilson for the redemptive ballad "Save Me," Jelly Roll offered a statement to The Tennessean encapsulating the hopeful energy that emanated throughout Ford Center at The Star:

"Between Post Malone, myself, Beyoncé and HARDY, then add Morgan Wallen, Shaboozey and Lainey Wilson, the songs of the summer and songs that will likely define this year, overall, are going to be made by country artists," he said.

Lainey Wilson becomes the 10th ACM Triple Crown winner

Before the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony, Lainey Wilson joked to The Tennessean that she had waited for what felt like a lifetime to join mainstream country's "cool kids club."

As of Thursday, she joins the likes of Barbara Mandrell, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood as ACM award winners for Best New Artist, Best Female Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year.

Lainey Wilson performs at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Lainey Wilson performs at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

After thanking her team, her band and her fellow nominees, Wilson said she still feels like the little girl who would climb out her window and count the stars in the sky.

"I'd see planes flying over my little town of 200 people and I'd dream about being on one of those planes," she said. "This year we've toured the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, but I still feel like that little girl. I really do."

Exclusive list: Lainey Wilson just earned the coveted ACM Awards 'Triple Crown.' Here's what that means

While cradling her award after the ACM Awards ceremony, Wilson, holding back tears, paused for 30 seconds and then offered that when she got onstage to receive her award, she looked to her dates for the evening: her parents Brian and Michelle Wilson.

"The gratitude I felt when I locked eyes with my parents is for them allowing me to dream the dreams that allowed me to achieve this goal," she said. "They're also representative of the kind of people inspiring me to believe that the sky is the limit regarding what I want to achieve next.

Noah Kahan, Dua Lipa and Post Malone

The second decade of Kelsea Ballerini's mainstream country music career now includes a duet of Noah Kahan's 2023 hit single "Stick Season" on a major awards stage. The ballad's significant regard as a line-straddler between the Americana, country, folk and pop familiar to Kahan's musical development paired well with Ballerini's East Tennessee-borne vocals on the ACM Awards stage.

ACM Male Artist of the Year and Album of the Year winner Chris Stapleton pulled off the surprise of the night with his performance alongside his wife, Morgane, and pop star Dua Lipa, who combined voices for a soulful rendition of "Think I'm in Love With You" that showcased Stapleton's trademark voice but also showed a new side of Lipa's vocal abilities.

Chris Stapleton gets a hug from Dua Lipa after their performance at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Chris Stapleton gets a hug from Dua Lipa after their performance at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Backstage at the ACM Awards, when queried about the similarities between his groundbreaking 2015 CMA Awards pairing with Justin Timberlake for "Tennessee Whiskey" (a Dua Lipa favorite, no less), Stapleton noted that they were similar in being "powerful super-collaborations that people can say inspired them to see how country music inspires people," but the uniqueness of Dua Lipa's work ethic and what she described as the "warmth" that Chris and Morgane extended to her made the moment more palpably exciting.

Post Malone's continuing growth as a country music performer also took massive steps on the ACM Awards stage.

In the past month, between an appearance at Indio, California,'s Stagecoach Festival and the release of his Morgan Wallen collaboration "I Had Some Help," he's showcased an earnest desire to be a significant player in the genre.

However, after debuting an unreleased single, performing a solo take on his previously mentioned Wallen ballad and being saluted by event host Reba McEntire, the latest stunning moment in the "Rockstar" performer's country crossover occurred.

Reba McEntire and Post Malone perform a tribute to the late Dickey Betts at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Reba McEntire and Post Malone perform a tribute to the late Dickey Betts at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

McEntire noted the recent passing of Allman Brothers member Dickey Betts and the two sang a verse of the group's 50-year-old classic "Ramblin' Man."

"Everybody loves you and I love you, too," McEntire offered.

Jelly Roll reflects on the power of 'Save Me,' one year later

At numerous points throughout the past week in Frisco, Texas, Jelly Roll was uncommonly reflective about the full-circle nature of returning to the ACM Awards in 2024.

At 2023's event, The Tennessean noted that the formerly incarcerated man from Antioch began his music career by selling CDs out of his car trunk.

Music Event of the Year award goes to Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Music Event of the Year award goes to Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Yet it was at that event where his "Save Me" collaboration with now Entertainer of the Year Wilson was debuted.

One year later, it's the Academy of Country Music's "Musical Event of the Year" winner.

His victory allowed the rock and country chart-topper to reveal why he was so deeply reflective during the past week.

"I still get hundreds of messages a day from people who are veterans of foreign wars, still locked away in jail cells, in substance abuse recovery, or parents who played the song at funerals for their children who passed away from fentanyl overdoses offering to me their emotional responses" to "Save Me", Jelly Roll said after the awards ceremony.

"This song's message is so much bigger than my success. I hope there are still artists covering this song in 100 years."

Jason Aldean performs show-stealing tribute

"Dirt Road Anthem" vocalist Aldean took to the Academy of Country Music stage to honor a friend, the late Toby Keith, with a moving rendition of Keith's hit "Should've Been a Cowboy."

Jason Aldean performs during the Toby Keith tribute at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.
Jason Aldean performs during the Toby Keith tribute at the 59th ACM Awards at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Playing an acoustic guitar on a small round stage backed by a string section, Aldean was highlighted by photos of Keith throughout the years. Aldean paid tribute with a simple, heartfelt song that, at times, was only overshadowed by vocals emanating from the crowd.

Blake Shelton introduced the tribute by calling Keith a friend, a fan and a fellow Okie.

"I feel heartbroken and yet honored to stand here tonight to remember a man who was one of the biggest country stars of all time, the late, great Toby Keith," Shelton said. "Toby was a big star in every way. He sold more than 44 million albums, he had 33 No. 1 hits and 14 ACM awards. But he was more than that. He was a loving husband and a proud father, and we're so honored to have all of them here tonight."

Watch: Jason Aldean honors Toby Keith with moving performance at ACM Awards

Aldean said before the show that he was honored to be invited to honor one of his heroes.

"I am glad to do something for Toby and honor him with a song I've played pretty much my whole career from the time I started playing clubs to even now," Aldean said. "Toby was a big influence for a lot of us in the business, so it was an honor for them to call me and ask me to be a part of it and honor him."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: ACM Awards: Lainey Wilson wins big; Dua Lipa, Chris Stapleton surprise