Music

Reba McEntire Talks the ACM Awards, Keys to Awards Show Hosting: ‘Keep It Interesting, Keep It Running Smoothly and Show Up’

When Reba McEntire watched last year’s ACM Awards and saw her buddies and fellow country icons Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks co-hosting the show and leading the festivities, she knew she wanted to join in again on the ACMs fun.

“They were so great, I was like, ‘I want to do that again!,’” McEntire told Billboard, just days before it was announced that McEntire will host the Academy of Country Music Awards for a 17th time on May 16, when the 59th annual awards show streams on Amazon Prime Video, returning to the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.

“I was really anxious to get back on the stage,” she said. “Going back to Texas is always good for me — because that’s close to home, southeastern Oklahoma.”

The ACMs, which launched in 1966, has highlighted country music’s biggest stars for nearly six decades. But the awards show’s team is still intent on breaking new ground: In 2022, the ACM Awards made history by becoming the first major music awards show to exclusively livestream when it shifted from CBS to Amazon Prime Video.

McEntire, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has 16 ACM Awards trophies to her credit, and nine ACM entertainer of the year nominations. She won the entertainer of the year accolade in 1994, and holds the most nominations for female artist of the year.

She says promoting new music and spending time with industry friends — as well as making new ones — are always big draws for taking part in the awards show ceremony.

“You get to go have fun with all your friends and buddies that you’ve gotten to know over the last 45, 50 years in the business and meet new people,” she said. “It’s the best place to get to meet the new artists, and that’s what I really enjoy getting to do. The last time I was at an awards show, it was Lainey Wilson. I got to hang out with her a bit, and Jelly Roll. Meeting new people and making new friends is what I love about the business.”

Having hosted a previous 16 ACM Awards ceremonies when the show was held in Las Vegas and various cities in California, McEntire knows well the work involved in preparing for hosting — from working with trusted writers to create and refine dialogue used for the evening, to balancing multiple outfit changes (McEntire says this year’s fashion theme will lean “a little more tough, sexy cowgirl”). She easily summarizes the essentials to being a great awards show host: “Keep it interesting, keep it running smoothly and show up. Be on time, be prepared.”

Of course, with live television, anything can happen. McEntire recalled how at the 2004 ACM Awards, producer Dick Clark assisted her in filling a time delay after performer Keith Urban’s guitar had been lost backstage.

“Dick was like, ‘Get out there and stall,’” she said. “I panicked. I mean, I got booed offstage in 1978 for telling jokes because I only had three songs to sing, so I think I have flashbacks of that when somebody says, ‘Get out there and wing it.’ I’m not [actor/comedian] Melissa Peterman — I cannot do that. So, Dick had to come out and help with it, and we got through it.”

Over the years, she’s learned a few key strategies for filling in any gaps.

“If anything does happen, they don’t have to depend on me to fill the space,” she said, “I’m going to have everybody mapped out in the audience that I will take a microphone down to, and they will be the ones to bridge the gap. There’s a lot of interesting characters in a country music industry party, so I will be making my rounds down into the audience.”

Through leading the ACM Awards more than a dozen times, McEntire has hosted in various configurations — both solo and co-hosting alongside artists including George Strait, Blake Shelton, Alan Jackson and John Schneider. Still, she does have a couple of bucket list people she would love to co-host with — including her beau, Rex Linn.

“I’d love to co-host with Rex. Rex is the biggest fan of music,” she said. “He and Melissa Peterman are two people who love music more than anybody. Boy, that would be fun. Melissa, Rex and me — the three of us hosting it? That would be a hoot. I would just sit back and have an iced tea and let them do all the work,” she quipped.

In addition to hosting, McEntire has over the years been responsible for some of the ACM Awards’ most prestigious and memorable performances, such as in 2007, when she performed “Because of You” alongside Kelly Clarkson. This year, McEntire will also perform her new single, “I Can’t,” which she called “a very strong woman’s song about standing up for herself.”

And yes — a new album is in the works, she says. McEntire worked on the project with producer Dave Cobb, who also worked on her 2021 album Reba: Revived Remixed Revisited.

“We’ve been working on it for over a year now, so not sure when it will be released, but I’m very proud of it,” McEntire said. “We wanted to do something a little more laid-back, with not so many instruments on it. But by the time we got more involved with it, we started putting more instruments back in and making it to where we like it.”

Ever a passionate music fan herself, McEntire says one of the projects she’s been listening to lately is Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child. “I was listening to her album the other day. I love her singing and I got to sing ‘Back to God’ with her on the ACMs years ago — that was one of the highlights.”

McEntire added, “The ACMs have been very good to me, and the collaborations I’ve gotten to do, not only singing but hosting, have been very memorable.”

DCP is owned by Penske Media Eldridge, a Penske Media Corporation (PMC) subsidiary and joint venture between PMC and Eldridge. PMC is the parent company of Billboard.

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