Husband-and-wife duo Thompson Square also pulled off an upset, winning vocal duo of the year over Sugarland. Everything else might have been predicted: Lady Antebellum won its third straight vocal group trophy, Toby Keith's riotous "Red Solo Cup" won video of the year and "American Idol" champion Scotty McCreery took new artist of the year.
Underwood kicked off the night with a hard-charging blast of rock 'n' roll and a sexy black and magenta mini-dress for hew new single "Good Girl," a warning shot to those looking for a lot of twang out of the show.
From Underwood's rockin' new single to U2 singer Bono's introduction of Dierks Bentley via video from Ireland to KISS in full makeup awarding Lady Antebellum with yet another trophy, the ACMs showed off the modern flavor of country with all sorts of multi-genre mashups.
LL Cool J and Keith Urban banded together to salute veterans and Toby Keith walked through the crowd as he sang "Red Solo Cup" with the help of Carrot Top. Actor-comedian-banjo player Steve Martin joined Rascal Flatts on "Banjo" after a brief tribute to country pioneer Earl Scruggs, who died last week.
Martina McBride and Train's Pat Monahan teamed up to help New Jersey couple Christina Davidson and Frank Tucci get married on stage while they sang McBride's "Marry Me." Davidson and Tucci's ceremony — quick even for notoriously quickie Vegas weddings — went on behind the singers during the performance and fans could hear the bride and groom say "I will" before their first kiss as a married couple, bringing the crowd to its feet.
And in one of the night's oddest juxtapositions, "Two and a Half Men" star Ashton Kutcher in cowboy hat sang George Strait before awarding Lambert female vocalist of the year.
For Swift, though, the night will be remembered as the bow on top of the "Speak Now" portion of her career. That multi-platinum album was the second-best selling LP of 2011. She filled stadiums and arenas around the world, and Billboard recently named her its top moneymaker last year with an estimated $35 million earned. She also won two Grammys earlier this year.
"It was an amazing thing and for me I am always looking forward, I am always looking at what's next," Swift said. "And I'm writing my next record right now as I have been for the past two years, but intensely writing my next record right now. I hope it's good. Keep your fingers crossed. I would love it if it was good."
Associated Press writer Cristina Silva in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
- 'Maze Runner,' based on Utah author's novel,...
- Big screen 'Maze Runner' is a big dream come...
- Why do we love bad movies?
- Where do we draw the line on spanking?
- ‘Kung Fu Panda’ director to helm...
- Alicia Keys is asking a simple question to...
- 'The Lion King' earns record box office
- Ballet to Broadway: Two Utah-native siblings...