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Bryan named top new artist

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

LAS VEGAS -- Leesburg's homegrown country star Luke Bryan offically became the top new artist in the genre Sunday night at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.

Bryan was quick to acknowledge his hometown in his acceptance speech. "To my hometown of Leesburg, Georgia, I love you!" he said.

Top new artist was a category that was decided by fan votes. Three categories, top new solo artist, top new duo and top new group, were decided by online voting in February and March. The winners in those three categories, Bryan, duo Joey + Rory, and group Gloriana, competed for the top new artist award that Bryan ultimately won.

Though seemingly composed, Bryan admitted to being a little nervous as he made his way onto the big stage.

"I'm shaking more than anyone has ever shaken before," he said.

He also thanked his parents and his wife Caroline.

Ahead of the awards, Bryan released an Internet video encouraging fans to "Vote (Or Don't Vote) for Luke." The clip included Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town; Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum; country stars -- past and present -- Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Little Jimmy Dickens, Emily West, Mel Tillis, Kenny Rogers and more. The effort paid off.

Bryan also guest starred on Donald Trump's show "Celebrity Apprentice" on Sunday night. Contestants, including chef Curtis Stone and singer Brett Michaels, were given the challenge of giving Bryan a makeover.

Top-selling trio Lady Antebellum won song and single record of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday for their crossover hit "Need You Now," while friend Miranda Lambert won album of the year for her critically acclaimed CD, "Revolution," and top female vocalist.

"We're living our dream right now. We've waited our whole lives for this," Lady A's Charles Kelley said after group's second win. They won a third trophy for group of the year.

Lambert didn't get to say much of anything after her victory; she started to speak, then tried to bring up her producer. However, when he came up and started speaking, music started to drown him out and the camera panned away, to the boos of the crowd, who wanted to hear him speak.

Lady A was nominated for a leading seven awards. Going into Sunday, they had lost one; Lambert's "White Liar" beat out "Need You Now" for video of the year on Saturday night, when some of the ACMs were presented.

But they each had two apiece midway through Sunday's show. Lady A could also celebrate the win with Bryan. Lady A's Kelley and Dave Haywood helped write his hit "Do I."

The show, held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, kicked off with Carrie Underwood and Lambert, joined on stage later by Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels and John Fogerty, who ripped through a rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band."

"That's how you start a television show, son!" Daniels, who recently recovered from a stroke, shouted.

Paisley won the award for male vocalist and made a splash performing his song "Water." After handing off his guitar, he fell back into a pool located on a satallite stage in the audience.

The show was heavy on performances, including those by Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, who performed her song "Change" backed by a choir.

The Zac Brown Band -- one of eight nominees for entertainer of the year -- wasn't able to make the show because of a USO tour in the Middle East. But the band sent video of a performance of "Chicken Fried" from overseas that included altered lyrics aimed at the military.

Toby Keith hit an emotional note with a performance of "Cryin' for Me (Wayman's Song)," dedicated to his late friend, jazz artist and former basketball star Wayman Tisdale, who died last May.

The show also had its share of non-country celebrities, including LL Cool J, Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn and Las Vegas staple Cher, who goofed when she announced that Blake Shelton had already won a CMA Award -- instead of an ACM -- the previous evening.

Though Lady A was the top nominated act, Underwood was the artist who made history. She became the first woman to win two Entertainer of the Year awards. She won the coveted award last year.

Also up for the fan-voted award was Swift, the 20-year-old sensation who helped bring country music to a huge mainstream audience, making her one of pop music's biggest stars. Swift went home empty handed.

The Zac Brown Band, George Strait, Keith Urban, Keith, Paisley and Chesney were also nominated for the Entertainer of the Year award.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.