In a powerful display of unity and emotion honoring the victims of manmade and natural disasters across the United States, CMT’s Artists of the Year event aired to record ratings on Wednesday night, skyrocketing 61 percentage points over 2016 numbers while drawing more than 1.1 million fans. The program also ranked as the most social entertainment program in primetime on cable, while #CMTAOTY trended nationally on Twitter.
CMT recast the event – typically a celebration of the year’s premiere country artists – into a “night of hope and healing” following a savage mass shooting that killed 58 people attending the Route 91 Harvest country music festival earlier this month, as well as a trio of hurricanes and a plague of wildfires that have disrupted life throughout much of the nation.
“We felt a commitment to our fans to transform the event into a night where we honor human resilience through music, and hopefully in the process lift the spirits of our fans,” said CMT General Manager Frank Tanki. “We’re thrilled that the special connected with so many people, especially those who’ve been impacted by the recent tragedies.”
The show’s ratings success hits as CMT is riding a 10-month ratings streak, with sustained year-over-year growth over that period among key demographics.
Here are a few highlights from the show, which aired from Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
Artists of the Year deliver message of unity and resilience
When the gunfire erupted over the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1, country music star Jason Aldean onstage. His audience was the killer’s target. As Aldean rushed to cover, 58 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the unending barrage of bullets.
To open the show on Wednesday night, Aldean appeared alongside the other Artists of the Year: Chris Stapleton, Florida Georgia Line, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan. The performers – whom the network had selected in September, prior to the format change – had all agreed to forego formal awards and focus on victims of the recent tragedies. They opened with a message acknowledging the power and importance of music, the resilience of the human spirit, and the strength and courage of first responders and fans:
The show resonated especially powerfully in Las Vegas, where ratings increased an astronomical 1,877 percentage points over last year.
Country stars deliver a powerful genre crossover with a tribute to Tom Petty
CMT has a bold tradition of fusing artists (pop legends The Backstreet Boys performed country sensation Florida Georgia Line’s H.O.L.Y. during the show), and one of the night’s most uplifting moments came on just such a crossover. Aldean, Urban, Stapleton and country mainstays Little Big Town united on stage for a tribute to the late Tom Petty, belting out a stirring ensemble cover of the rocker’s I Won’t Back Down.
One of Petty’s most famous songs, the defiant anthem served as an appropriate tribute to the music legend while doubling as an apt rebuke to the fear and retreat that killers like the Las Vegas mass murderer hope to inspire:
The crossovers continued with messages of hope and inspiration
While the Petty tribute proved an emotionally resonant show-closer, cross-genre pairings, reminiscent of the network’s CMT Crossroads show and tuned to the tragic moment, rang across the stage all evening. Singer-songwriter Andra Day and Little Big Town performed the inspirational Rise Up.
Both of them then joined rapper Common and country singers Danielle Bradbery and Lee Ann Womack for Stand Up for Something.
Stapleton, meanwhile, dedicated his track Broken Halos to victims of the Las Vegas shooting.