Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton collected five top awards between them… (Wade Payne / Associated…)
Blake Shelton -- the singer, songwriter and, most recently, one of the stars of reality music TV series "The Voice" -- came away the big winner in the 46th Country Music Assn. Awards ceremony Thursday in Nashville, winning entertainer, male vocalist and song of the year honors, the latter shared with his wife, Miranda Lambert.
"When I moved to Nashville in 1994, I had two goals: one day to have a gold record, and one day to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry," the 36-year-old Oklahoma native told the crowd looking on in the country music capital's Bridgestone Arena. "Entertainer of the year -- what is this? ... I don’t know how this happened, but I freaking love it."
Lambert was equally self-effacing in collecting the second of her two trophies for the night, for female vocalist over Kelly Clarkson, Martina McBride, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
PHOTOS: CMA 2012 on the red carpet | CMA 2012 Winners and nominees | The show
"I don't necessarily deserve this, but I'll take it," she said before complimenting the category's other nominees. "I'm going to stand up here and try to represent for all the female up-and-comers."
Paisley and Underwood handled hosting duties for the fifth consecutive year. Winners are determined by balloting among 8,000 members of the Nashville-based CMA, whose membership includes musicians, producers, record company, radio and other music-industry professionals.
It was an evening in which most of the top awards went to younger artists rather than country veterans, and to acts that draw strongly on rock as much as on traditional country sounds. Raucous, strobe-light-heavy performances dominated the three-hour show that puts more emphasis on musicians delivering their latest hits than on showcasing work they are nominated for.
THE ENVELOPE: The awards insider
In other key awards, Eric Church’s “Chief” was selected as album of the year, Lambert and Shelton's "Over You" was named song of the year and the quartet Little Big Town scored for vocal group and single of the year for their hit "Pontoon."
New artist of the year award went to Hunter Hayes, the 21-year-old Louisiana-bred pop-country singer who started out as a preschool Internet sensation with his performances on the Cajun button accordion, which he's since traded for electric guitar and piano to become a rising country heartthrob.
The CMA gave Willie Nelson the first Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, and a musical salute featuring many of the show's other winners, nominees and performers.
Garth Brooks, singer Connie Smith, and pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins were recognized as the newest round of Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.
Going into the awards, Church led with five nominations, Lambert and Shelton were tied at four apiece, and Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley and Swift had three nominations each.
Trying to keep up with Carrie Underwood
Taylor Swift makes a grown-up move on 'Red'
CMA Awards 2012: All the performances as they happen
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2
PHOTOS AND MORE:
PHOTOS: Iconic rock guitars and their owners
The Envelope: Awards Insider
PHOTOS: Unfortunately timed pop meltdowns