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Donn Jones, Donn Jones /Invision/AP
Jimi Westbrook, left, and Karen Fairchild, right, of Little Big Town, and Keith Urban, center, perform at the 2013 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, June 5, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Donn Jones/Invision/AP)

There are several things I took away from the CMT awards show Wednesday night:

  1. Country music is both exactly the same and completely different.
  2. I miss Nashville.
  3. Award shows are kind of silly.
After popping some popcorn and filling a bowl with pretzel M&Ms, I headed upstairs with my laptop ready to write and review one of country music’s biggest nights on television.

I was a bit surprised to see rock legend Lenny Kravitz opening the show with his classic hit “American Woman,” along with host Jason Aldean. It was a great number, even if there was a slight mix-up with the lyrics. (The duo forgot who was singing which part at one point.)

Country music has always been open to other genres. Really, I think country is at the root of many different styles of music. It’s so versatile that way. It can lend itself to pop, rock, blues and hip hop vibes.

In years past, it’s been country artists trying to “cross over” into the pop world instead of the other way around.

Now, many a pop artist has either done duets with a country act or joined the country crew permanently.

Kelly Clarkson recently performed a duet with Blake Shelton, “Don’t You Wanna Stay." Former “Hootie and the Blowfish” lead singer Darius Rucker, who performed his latest No. 1 hit single “Wagon Wheel” during the show, is another example. He’s made the rather unusual switch from pop to country quite seamlessly and successfully.

It’s cool, even trendy I’d say, to be country now more than ever.

Yes, there are still men sporting the classic and ridiculously tight Wrangler jeans. And yes, women are still cracking their voices and placing more emphasis on their Southern-born (or freshly acquired) accents.

But it’s not only the music that’s changed in country. Reality stars seem to have taken over the industry.

The first performance of the night was from Cassadee Pope, winner of season three’s “The Voice.” The first presenters were “American Idol” contestants Scotty McCreery and Kelly Pickler, who is also the newly crowned “Dancing With the Stars” champ. (She looked stunning and made me seriously re-think my late-night sweet ’n’ salty binge. For a second.)

And then there were performances by “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood and “Nashville Star” runner-up Miranda Lambert, who both took home awards.

Even artists who have taken the long road and been around for some time seem to have jumped on the reality show bandwagon: Blake Shelton, judge on NBC’s “The Voice,” and Keith Urban, judge on Fox’s “American Idol,” are two examples.

“I wonder if stars such as Reba McEntire and Tim McGraw who started at the very bottom, playing dingy bars and traveling all over the country, look at people like Underwood, Lambert and Pope and think, ‘You haven’t really earned your spot,’ ” my husband mused.

I’ve wondered the same thing. How does a truly self-made artist such as Keith Urban who played and sang and worked his tail off from the ground up and took almost 10 years to finally “make it” feel about being out-sold by a young twenty-something who stepped on a reality show and was instantly blown to super-stardom?

I guess with the rise of social media where everything is instant, why not stars? It’s not to say they haven’t worked hard to get where they’re at, too. But what used to take years and years of paying your dues maybe now only takes a matter of months. Or weeks, even.

Seeing all those former reality show stars up on stage doing what they love made me get a little Tennessee trunky. There is much I don’t miss about being on the road, but there are certain things (like an incredibly glamorous awards show) that bring back some old memories and a long-since buried feeling of “I wonder ….”

I sometimes long for a night out at the Bluebird Café, listening to amazing songwriters showcasing their new creations. I sometimes miss the hot, muggy air and dense, green trees that almost spill onto the freeway. The biscuits from Loveless. The fried chicken from Otters. The fireflies.

As I sat there on the foot of my bed, thinking about all those places and people and contemplating how different my life is now, Kree Harrison, runner-up from this season's “American Idol,” got up on stage to perform her single “All Cried Out.”

And that’s when I lost it.

Maybe it was the fact that I knew more than half of the performers and presenters at the CMT awards. Maybe it was the fact that I had walked that red carpet, sat in that audience and imagined myself singing on that stage. Maybe it was Kree’s song.

Whatever it was, it left me feeling a little reminiscent.

Most days, I’m very happy with the path I chose. I know it was right for me, and absolutely, hands down the best choice.


Sometimes I remember when. Sometimes I wonder, “what if …?” Sometimes the taste is bittersweet.

But ....

That is not my life. And it’s times like this when I remind myself why.

One day in church many years ago, when I was contemplating what path I was going to choose, I had a woman named Rachel Hardy (who I look up to and respect) walk over and sit down beside me. She could tell I was struggling, and asked what was wrong.

I told her I was torn between this glitzy, exciting life and the more quiet, often uncelebrated aspect of being a homemaker. I had many people pulling for both, and felt like I was in the middle of a tug-of-war with my “professional” life pulling me in one direction and my “normal” life pulling me in another.

As I explained my wrestle, she got tears in her eyes and said this:

“You can’t take your trophies to bed with you." (OK, maybe you can. But that would be weird. And probably uncomfortable.)

That was a pivotal moment for me. That was, I believe, the moment that propelled me on to choose the life I have now. I wanted my husband, not a CMT award, lying in bed with me at night. I wanted little faces to wipe, rooms to clean and a “normal” life of being a mom, without the hardship of being gone so much, even if it was doing something I love.

I am still a singer. That is part of who I am and part of who I always will be. But life is different now, forevermore, and even though sometimes I go back, I know I’d never go back to stay.

I didn’t expect such a rush of emotions, but after I pulled myself together and had some more M&Ms, I started thinking how rather goofy awards shows are.

It’s like that book “You Are Special” by Max Lucado, where everyone runs around giving each other stars or dots, depending on how "good" or "bad" they are.

During awards shows, there are over-the-top performances (such as Taylor Swift singing her hit “Red” complete with flag-dancers, screaming guitar solos and very choreographed hair-flipping), awkward presenter moments (like Kenny Rogers forgetting the words to his own song, “Islands in the Stream” during an impromptu performance with Sheryl Crow) and, of course, more than one inappropriate joke. (Dropping the f-bomb during the first five-minute monologue? Come on.)

It seems like, even though entertaining, awards shows are just another way to compare and judge others.

I am happy to walk down memory lane every once in awhile to look at pictures, talk about the fun times and even go back to revisit my favorite places.

But here, home, plopped on my bed next to my husband, watching all the craziness happen on TV, is where I long to stay.

And at the end of the day, I wonder where all the trophies end up?

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.