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Five Things the American Country Awards Did Right in 2013

LeAnn Rimes, Jake Owen, Danica Patrick
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

It’s a mistake to compare the American Country Awards to the CMA Awards, or even the ACM Awards, country music’s other Las Vegas-based awards show. The CMT Awards or CMA Country Christmas specials are more fair comparisons. Expectations for Fox’s awards show have been too high since the beginning — it airs in December, after television’s sweeps month, against network reruns and Christmas movies. No one is breaking the bank, or even hoping to top ‘The Voice.’

That said, the ACAs are beginning to find a groove. They made a lot of changes for year four, and most worked. Despite the criticism (Twitter critics were particularly harsh), Fox producers did some things right. In fact they did some things better than the CMAs and ACMs.

5 Things the ACAs Did Right in 2013:

1. Take Advantage of Ignored Talent: December 10 is the perfect date to do what the ACAs did last night: introduce a bunch of talented, but generally lesser-known country stars to casual country fans. Jake Owen, Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett were singers who took advantage of the big stage. Kellie Pickler was also sharp. This is how this show can separate itself from others. Embrace the up-and-comers, while including enough A-listers to get people to tune in.

2. Extra Correspondents: Offstage, DeeJay Silver injected energy into the broadcast with his remixed commercial bumpers. Hiring him was a slick move, as he’s a great fit for this network and the show’s younger target audience.

Jon Reep did a decent job as backstage correspondent, although a little more style would have gone a long way. Yes, this is the Hemi guy, and he’s not going to wear a bow tie and Banana Republic slacks. But give the man something that doesn’t look like it came from a Kohl’s clearance rack!

3. The New Girl: Danica Patrick faced the toughest test, as fans were waiting for a reason to jump her. She didn’t steal the show, but she proved capable and should get an invite to return. In fact, her pairing with Trace Adkins allowed for a wider range of material than 2012′s show with Kristin Chenoweth. That duo had one joke (he big, she small), while the NASCAR driver brought a smarter sense of humor and a tone that complemented — instead of contrasted — the big man’s dry baritone and willingness to do anything.

4. Live Music: Performances were strong overall, with LeAnn Rimes stealing the show during a beautiful tribute to Patsy Cline. This woman can flat out sing, and it’s a shame she’s lost her spot on radio playlists. Fans surrounded the stage during most songs, and artists were able to feed off that energy. The 2013 ACAs provided a satisfying intimacy lost at other awards shows.

5. Secure the Stars: Finally, ACA producers found clever ways to include top talent, in this case Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley. However, their biggest “get” was Luke Bryan, and they made good use of him (although he didn’t perform, which was odd). No one is hotter in country music right now, and being able to say the ‘Drink a Beer’ singer will be there is worth a million viewers or more. It’s going to take some convincing to get top talent to attend this show, as it’s still new, and it’s in December — a month no one in Nashville wants to go to Las Vegas. Beg, bribe, make up awards, do whatever … that’s perhaps the thing producers of this show do best, and it will get easier. Expect fewer Big Smo appearances in the years to come.

Things to Work on: The show is not quite ready for the big leagues, but it’s showing some potential. The flurry of awards announcements is still confusing, and there’s an overall sense of disorganization. It was fun to see Dwight Yoakam, but someone needed to tell him he wasn’t co-hosting Paisley’s Video Visionary Award acceptance speech.

While better, the writing is still weak. Adkins and Patrick more or less treaded water with a few good laughs and a few groaners, but a number of eye-rolling bits slipped into presentations. Carrie Keagan ripping open ‘Farm King’ star Dan King’s shirt and calling him “‘Duck Dynasty’ with beefcake” was a jump-the-shark moment — that felt unscripted. Parmalee also went off script when their hit ‘Carolina’ wasn’t played to introduce them. Reminding fans who they were (on the day the album ‘Feels Like Carolina’ hit stores) was a smart move by the foursome, but that wouldn’t have been necessary at the CMAs.

Last year, ToC offered five suggestions to make this show better. Four still apply, and this year we’ll suggest turning the red carpet around so everyone isn’t forced to wear sunglasses. But the biggest thing the show needs is a little luck. Someone needs to make a memory that everyone is talking about the next morning. It may surround a tragedy, or it could be something uplifting. Rimes’ Patsy Cline tribute was the closest the ACAs have come yet.

Next: The Best and Worst Dressed at the 2013 ACAs

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