LAS VEGAS (AP) — "Over You" is the song that keeps on giving as Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton won twice for the deeply personal song they co-wrote at Sunday night's Academy of Country Music Awards.
The song and single record of the year wins vaulted Lambert into the lead with three trophies midway through the show and moved ACMs co-host Shelton into a three-way tie with Eric Church, Little Big Town and Florida Georgia Line with two trophies apiece.
"Over You," written by the couple about Shelton's late brother, won song of the year at the Country Music Association Awards last November as well.
"As a songwriter, having your song and your lyrics recognized by your peers is pretty much as good as it gets. And I'm so thankful for being in this genre of country music, every single time someone's nominated, I just cheer, because I love everybody to death. So thank you for accepting me as a song writer, not just as a singer, because that means the world to me," she said.
Church's lived up to his nickname "Chief" as he won album of the year for the album of the same name.
This year's top nominee also won vocal event of the year for his collaboration with Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean on "The Only Way I Know" and performed his somber but powerful song "Like Jesus Does" with only an acoustic guitar and a backup singer.
"I can't believe I just met John Fogerty," Church said as he accepted the album award from the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman and Lambert. "We should hang out later."
Little Big Town had two wins for vocal group and video of the year. Florida Georgia Line won for new artist and were previous winners in the new vocal duo/group category. And husband and wife Shawna and Keifer Thompson continued their feel-good story as Thompson Square won its second straight vocal duo of the year award.
Shawna Thompson gave a shoutout to her mother from stage.
Tears came to her eyes backstage as she explained that her father had recently passed away and she wanted to acknowledge her mother during her acceptance speech to support her.
"She's just having a really hard time," she said.
Shelton kicked the show off with his new single "Boys 'Round Here," a hip-hop-flavored ode to redneck swag. He was joined by Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow and Pistol Annies, a trio that includes his wife Miranda Lambert.
George Strait made his first appearance of the night, singing "Give It All We Got Tonight." Lady Antebellum debuted new song "Downtown" and Charles Kelley finished off the song by rubbing pregnant trio-mate Hillary Scott's belly. Carrie Underwood stepped out of a black Cadillac parked on stage as she started her song, "Two Black Cadillacs."
Lambert appeared later with a fiery, diamond-studded rendition of her recent hit "Mama's Broken Heart."
Co-hosts Shelton and Bryan — who have given themselves the celebrity couple name "Bluke" — started the show off-color as they insulted each other during their monologue.
"How about a shout out to the Sherwin-Williams company for spray-painting Luke's jeans on," Shelton joked as the camera zoomed in on Bryan's, ahem, mid-section.
Bryan took his turn: "Blake's jeans are like buying something on credit — nothing up front. I mean, what size are those, extra empty?"
The night was a showcase for country's men of the moment — and for its two dominant male stars of the last two decades, the marquee meeting of Brooks and Strait. They are two of music's top-selling artists regardless of genre, but have never performed together.
They will help honor the show's longtime producer Dick Clark, who passed away last year. The academy is naming its artist of the decade award for Clark, whose tenure with the show began in 1979.
The moment will be special — and not just for the millions watching at home. It has country's biggest stars abuzz as well.
"Having George and Garth on stage together at one time on an awards show will become one of the most important pieces of tape in country music history," Dierks Bentley said.
Shelton, Bryan and Aldean are up for the fan-voted entertainer of the year award — though they're facing off against academy favorite Lambert and two-time winner Swift, a heavy favorite to three-peat given her relationship with fans.
Kelley of Lady Antebellum said the best of country would be on display during the show.
"It'll give you a broad spectrum of what country music is all about. There are so many styles that kind of fall under the same umbrella, so it's a good representation of the genre," he said.
Shelton is arguably country's most visible male today. "The Voice" coach has a weekly presence on national television, was the recent winner of the rival Country Music Association's entertainer of the year award and has risen to platinum status again after a mid-career lull that's a distant memory.
Aldean is country's best-selling male artist at the moment and Church and Bryan have recently joined him as acts who can fill arenas and reach multiplatinum sales.
They're so prevalent at this year's awards, they've elbowed out traditional nominees like Brad Paisley, who was shut out of the nominations for the first time since 1999, and Kenny Chesney, a perennial entertainer of the year nominee who was left out of the category despite putting on 2012's most talked about event — his stadium tour with Tim McGraw.
Hayes will be joined by another performer who got his start as a precocious teen — Stevie Wonder, making his first appearance on the show.
AP Writer Hannah Dreier contributed to this report.
Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott: http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.