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Short, sweet, and stunned: Backstage at the 55th CMA Awards

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ABC

In a night full of upsets and surprises, the virtual press room backstage at the 55th CMA Awards Wednesday night in Nashville was surprisingly quiet — perhaps because the majority of the winners were absolutely stunned.

Luke Combs walked back, just moments after picking up his first — and perhaps already overdue — trophy for Entertainer of the Year. Well-known for lavishing gifts on his parents and both helping and sharing credit with unsung singers and songwriters, he vowed to stay true to his North Carolina roots as the most prestigious mantle in country music falls on him. The president of his label, Sony Nashville, even interrupted one of his answers to pop in and give him a huge hug.

Four-time winner Chris Stapleton — never famous for his gift for gab — stayed the longest, recognizing how crucial his wife Morgane is to his success, as she stepped in at one point to wipe the sweat from his face. The five-time Male Vocalist of the Year acknowledged he takes pride in upholding that standard, while also being tight-lipped about his upcoming collaborations with both Adele and Taylor Swift.

Though largely still in shock, first-time Female Vocalist winner Carly Pearce managed to be somewhat more composed than she’d been onstage at Music City’s Bridgestone Arena, acknowledging that a long line of strong women from her native Kentucky had paved the way for her to chase her childhood dream of singing country music, and also navigate her way out of a very public and painful divorce.

Vocal Duo Brothers Osborne closed out the night, marking a huge milestone for country music, as TJ and John reclaimed the category they’d won three times before, after a year that saw TJ make the unprecedented move of coming out as a gay man.

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