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Shelton takes top gong at CMA awards

NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- Winning the Country Music Association Awards' entertainer of the year is a top honor and always counted as a career high point. But for Blake Shelton it wasn't even the most memorable moment of an amazing Thursday night.

“The Voice” star took home three trophies, including his third straight male vocalist victory, but nothing compared to sharing song of the year with wife Miranda Lambert. The pair wrote “Over You,” about the death of Shelton's brother Richie in a car wreck 15 years ago. He said that trophy will always have a special place in their Oklahoma home.

Shelton's entertainer win was the biggest surprise of a night full of them. Even he couldn't believe he'd won the award in a field that included Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley.

The reality, though, is Shelton capped one of the most impressive career reboots in country music history with the win. About three years ago, he was searching for a hit or a gimmick that might return him to the top of the charts, without much luck. He scored a novelty hit with Trace Adkins called “Hillbilly Bone,” began a run of hits and then joined “The Voice” in a move that made him an instant celebrity outside the country world.

He hasn't sold as many records as Swift, whose “Red” just moved 1.2 million copies in its first week, or as many concert tickets as Chesney or Aldean. But his leading-man looks, wicked sense of humor, Twitter presence and mellow baritone have made him one of country's top stars.

While Shelton didn't give himself much of a shot, Lambert — who also won her third straight female vocalist of the year award — thought he fit the definition of entertainer of the year after doing a little research.

Shelton's victory was just one of many surprises during the awards. Quartet Little Big Town joined Lambert with two wins apiece, taking home vocal group and single of the year for “Pontoon.” And Thompson Square's Shawna and Keifer Thompson won vocal duo of the year, ending Sugarland's five-year run in that category.

Like fellow outsiders LBT, Eric Church felt the love from the CMA's voters for the first time. He won the prestigious album of the year for his breakthrough record “Chief,” signaling the North Carolina native's complete acceptance by the country music community.

The awards went off-script early, and not just for Little Big Town. Thompson Square won in a category that's been locked up by either Sugarland or Brooks & Dunn 19 of the last 20 years.

Hunter Hayes won new artist of the year, while Chesney and Tim McGraw won musical event of the year for “Party Like a Rock Star” and Toby Keith won video of the year for “Red Solo Cup.”

Church helped kick off the show by combining forces with Aldean and Luke Bryan. Playing with a large American flag behind them, the trio of performers teamed up on Aldean's new single “The Only Way I Know” from his new album “Night Train” and earned a standing ovation. Each returned later to play singles, showing how large a market share they now own in country music.

Most of country's top stars were on hand at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena for the celebration, with many slated to perform. Swift performed her somber new single “Begin Again” on a set with a picture of the Eiffel Tower and falling leaves in the background. She received an ovation of her own.

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 Photo exhibition tells stories of the past 
Miranda Lambert, left, and Blake Shelton embrace onstage after winning the award for song of the year for “Over You” at the 46th Annual Country Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, Thursday, Nov. 1. (AP)

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