(USA TODAY) - Age and beauty went neck-and-neck at Wednesday night's Country Music Association Awards as old favorites and young upstarts competed for the industry's top honors
A not-so-young upstart, Hootie & the Blowfish frontman-turned-country crooner Darius Rucker, 43, became the first black performer named best new artist. And country-pop sensation Taylor Swift- at 19, less than half Rucker's age - vied with male veterans old enough to be her father for entertainer of the year.
Swift also earned album of the year for Fearless, thus getting an opportunity to give an acceptance speech that was not interrupted by Kanye West.
The ceremony, which aired live from Nashville's Sommet Center, was co-hosted for the second consecutive year by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, 2008's winners for male and female vocalist. The comely twosome reprised their playful, sometimes goofy chemistry, taking sly pokes at several nominees early on and offering the musical parody Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Kanye.
At one point, Paisley likened the country community to a happily dysfunctional family: "Think of us as George Strait plus eight," he quipped.
Paisley entered this year's contest with seven nominations, more than any other artist, and picked up an award for musical event (Start a Band, a duet with Keith Urban).
Rucker, who had said on the red carpet that he didn't "have a chance" of winning, thanked country radio for having faith in "a pop singer from Charleston, S.C. God bless y'all for that!"
Last year's winner in that category, the trio Lady Antebellum, ended Rascal Flatts' six-year hold on the vocal group prize, and took another award for the single I Run to You.
Accepting the award, Lady's Hillary Scott was one of several winners to strike a patriotic note, reminding fans that this year's ceremony fell on Veterans Day. "We can't not thank our veterans for all they do. We love you."
Longtime songwriter-turned-recording star Jamey Johnson shared song-of-the-year honors for In Color with Lee Thomas Miller and James Otto.
The performances, too, mixed experience with youthful exuberance. Swift opened the show strutting through Forever & Always, and the Zac Brown Band burned through a breathless cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia.