Inside the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley

Paisley talks about the CMA Awards, Carrie Underwood, and who to watch this year.

Alanna Nash
Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood
David McClister
Q: How did you become the co-host of the CMAs?
A: People had talked about it for a little while, but it didn’t seem real. Then all of a sudden, somebody shows up in August and says, “I think they want you to host the awards with Carrie Underwood.” Which are in November. And the next thing you know, we’re up there.
 
Q: Were you comfortable with the idea right off?
A: I remember thinking, “What are we going to do when we get up there? Are we just going to fall flat on our faces, or is this going to be ok?” The first year, we were standing back stage, and we both looked at each other and said, “Can you believe we’re about to do this?” And Carrie was like, “No, I can’t.” (Laugh) And as soon as the show was over, she looked at me and said, “Would you do it again?” (Laugh) And I said, “Of course!” The next year, we just really dove in. And we started to figure out our identity.
 
Q: You have a natural camaraderie.
A: What’s weird is that usually a duo or an act like this finds it over many nights of bonding in comedy clubs. But we happened to have a gig a year. And somehow, we’ve have evolved together with that limited amount of woodshedding. And we write a lot of it, especially the monologue. It’s a collaborative effort. What’s been fun over the years is that I’ll get a text from Carrie in May and it’ll say, “Tim and Faith have Barbies.” (Laugh) She comes up with amazing stuff.
 
Q: Have there been big screw-ups?
A: Last year, we had a really big skit, and it was pulled 24 hours before show time. I called Bill Shatner and said, “What are you doing tomorrow night?” And he said, “I’m flying to Kentucky.” And I said, “No, you’re coming to Nashville. I want you to come out as Captain Kirk, completely confused, thinking that it’s a ‘Star Trek’ night, when we’re doing all the ‘Star Wars’ stuff.”
 
Q: Did he agree immediately?
A: Well, then I said, “Or would you rather be a Stormtrooper.” He said [Shatner voice], “A Stormtrooper! I want to be a Stormtrooper!” (Laugh) And there he was.
 
Q: What’s happening this year?
A: You tell me! We need some people in our format to do some crazy stuff. A little bit of getting caught by paparazzi in unflattering situations would help. Anyone willing to do that? “Blake [Shelton]? We’d appreciate it.”
 
Q: The show is great at breaking new artists, like last year, when Chris Stapleton’s duet with Justin Timberlake stole the night.
A: The CMAs are structured the same way as the Oscars, in that the people who make the art vote, unlike the fan-voted shows. A year ago, at a fan-voted show, no one knew who Chris Stapleton was. He’s the best example I’ve ever seen of that. Because our industry basically said, “Hey, everybody, wake up! This guy belongs on a list of [great, new] people, whether you realize it or not.”
 
Q: Where is country music now? Are we still stuck in Bro Country?
A: A friend of mine wants to get a shirt made that says, “I survived Bro Country.” I told him if he does that, I’ll wear it. (Laugh) But I think we’re almost out of that. You feel that changing. We’re coming back, as far as songwriting goes. The Tim McGraw song, “Humble and Kind” is pretty fantastic, and a great moral. And Maren Morris’s “My Church,” and Cam’s “Burning House.” And the boundaries of music have just completely melted away. That’s not always a bad thing.
 
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