ACM Awards kicks off with surprise Blake Shelton performance

Carrie Underwood arrives at the 51st annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 3, 2016, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Hot looks at the 2016 ACMs

The stars showed some skin at the 2016 Academy of Country Music Awards.

Losing his hosting gig to Dierks Bentley did not stop Blake Shelton from crashing this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards.

Shelton surprised the show’s co-host Luke Bryan by joining him onstage to open the show with a performance of Bryan’s “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day” at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Bentley was waiting backstage to jump into the performance before Shelton took his microphone.

“The Voice” coach followed the collaborative performance with his own emotional rendition of his recent single “Came Here to Forget.”

After the performance, the hosts told a string of jokes, including one about country singers in the audience taking credit for the breakthrough career of leading nominee Chris Stapleton, who has written hits for dozens of country stars.

Stapleton dominated at the Grammys and the Country Music Association Awards, but will he repeat at the ACM Awards? Yes and no.

Stapleton has seven nominations, but he’s not up for the top award: entertainer of the year. Instead, he will compete for album, song and male vocalist of the year. He won new male vocalist of the year in an early announcement.

The singer-songwriter has a strong chance to win big Sunday after collecting two Grammys in February and three CMAs in November, when he also had a show-stopping performance alongside Justin Timberlake.

For entertainer of the year, reigning champ Bryan will battle Garth Brooks, Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert. A win for Lambert would make her the first woman to win the honor since Taylor Swift in 2012.

Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw will also hit the stage. Collaborative performances will also take place, including Dolly Parton and Katy Perry; Miranda Lambert with Billy Gibbons and Keith Urban; Little Big Town featuring Trombone Shorty; and Kelsea Ballerini with Nick Jonas.

Perry, sporting a neon pink cow print jacket and matching cowboy boots, told The Associated Press after rehearsals on Saturday that she and Parton have lot in common, like they both grew up singing gospel music. They sat together in the audience.

“I don’t come out for anyone, but when Dolly calls, probably on her hot pink phone, I pick up,” Perry said. “I have always wanted this to happen, I’ve wanted it for years, so I guess I dreamed a big dream and now it’s being realized.”

Parton said the two singers would be singing her famous song “Jolene,” as well as “Coat of Many Colors,” but there might be more surprises on the show.

Cam, who will also perform, is the second most nominated act with six thanks to her Grammy-nominated hit “Burning House.”

Most of the time when Cam sings “Burning House,” she encourages fans to sing along by the end of the song. But she said Saturday after her rehearsal she might approach the ACM audience a little differently.

“I feel like I am going to be too nervous to look at celebrity people in the eye and say, ‘Sing along!’ ” Cam said. “I am mostly going to keep it in my corner this time, and if they want to, they can.”

Church is also nominated for six awards and will perform. His surprise album, “Mr. Misunderstood,” is nominated for album of the year along with efforts from Stapleton, Hunt, Thomas Rhett and Chris Young.

Presenters include Kiefer Sutherland, who is working on a country album; British actor Tom Hiddleston, who portrays Hank Williams in biopic, “I Saw the Light”; Miss America Betty Cantrell; and singers Kacey Musgraves, Darius Rucker, Martina McBride and Jake Owen. Additional performers include Stapleton, Aldean, Rhett, Brett Eldredge, Charles Kelley, Cole Swindell and Old Dominion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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