2022 CMT Artists of the Year: Alan Jackson, Kane Brown, Cody Johnson, Carly Pearce & More Honored

One of country music’s most respected singer-songwriters honoring another of the genre’s most revered singer-songwriters made for a signature moment during the 2022 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony, which airs Friday (Oct. 14) on CMT, and taped the evening of Oct. 12.

Alan Jackson, who received the artist of a lifetime award, stood center stage at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center and paid tribute to the late Loretta Lynn, who died Oct. 4 at the age of 90.

“There will never be another Loretta Lynn,” he told the crowd, eliciting cheers.

The evening marked a celebration of some of the most successful artists in the genre over the past year. This year’s honorees were Kane Brown, Luke Combs, Walker Hayes, Cody Johnson and Carly Pearce. Additionally, Lainey Wilson was named breakout artist of the year.

Hayes, known for hits like “AA” and the inescapable “Fancy Like,” which spent 24 weeks atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (and reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100), teamed with Ciara for a special collaboration of Hayes’ song “Y’all Life.” Kelsea Ballerini and writer-producer Shane McAnally (who works with both Ballerini and Hayes, among many others) recalled first meeting Hayes in a smoothie shop, when Hayes approached him and asked if McAnally would listen to his songs.

Hayes was emotional as he accepted the honor, saying, “The last award I got was in ninth grade for most-improved student.”

With her EP 29 and expanded album 29: Written in Stone, Pearce has turned one of the most challenging and heartbreaking seasons of her life into triumph, crafting the projects following her divorce in 2020 from fellow artist Michael Ray. Pearce has since earned another No. 1 hit with “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” and is the reigning ACM female artist of the year and current CMA female vocalist of the year. Last year, Pearce was also inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and has been on the road opening shows for Kenny Chesney.

Pearce performed an anguished yet determined rendering of “29,” and later accepted her CMT artists of the year honor by thanking CMT’s senior vp of music and talent Leslie Fram for being a steadfast champion.

“I think about 10 years ago, crying on Leslie Fram’s couch and wondering if I was going to get a break,” she recalled. She encouraged anyone who is struggling with a difficult time, adding, “You can get through and overcome, because I did.” Closing out her speech, she reminded the audience that “country music is my heart,” and quipped, “Divorce never looked so good!”

The evening marked the third CMT artists of the year honor for Luke Combs, who this year earned two CMT Music Awards nominations, as well as a Grammy nomination for best country solo performance for “Forever After All.” He is also set to launch his stadium World Tour, which will visit 16 countries, next year. Though the hitmaker was not in attendance, Riley Green performed Combs’ current Hot 100 top 10 hit “The Kind of Love We Make.”

Wilson wowed the audience with her vocal prowess on “Heart Like a Truck,” which is included on her upcoming album Bell Bottom Country. Over the past year, Wilson has earned two No. 1 hits, “Things a Man Oughta Know” and the Cole Swindell duet “Never Say Never,” and just teamed with HARDY for the dramatic murder ballad “Wait in the Truck.” She is also gearing up for her debut on the hit series Yellowstone in November, and is the most-nominated artist leading into this year’s Country Music Association Awards. At the same time, Wilson has also weathered hard times in recent weeks, as her father has been battling health issues. She happily noted to the audience that he came home from the hospital this week, which drew cheers from the audience.

She noted that she has “come a long way from the camper trailer days,” and noted how much she has always just wanted a chance to be in country music.

The CMT Artists of the Year taping was extra special for Kane and Katelyn Brown, as it fell on the couple’s fourth wedding anniversary. The evening also marked Brown’s third CMT artists of the year recognition.

Brown performed his recent No. 1 hit “Like I Love Country Music,” which includes a reference to “Chattahoochee,” the 1993 hit from lifetime honoree Jackson. The song is included on Brown’s recently released album, Different Man. Over the past year, Brown has continued to add to his arsenal of hit songs and collaborations. In August, Brown became the first male country artist to perform on the MTV VMAs and recently embarked on an international tour with stops in Australia and Europe. “This feels amazing to be recognized,” Brown said, thanking not only his wife, but also his manager Martha Earls and his publishing partner Kent Earls.

Texan Cody Johnson scored one of the year’s biggest hits with “’Til You Can’t,” which reigned atop Billboard’s Country Airplay chart for two weeks in March. He also picked up two CMT Music Awards earlier this year, including male video of the year and digital-first performance.

Seated on a stool and backed by his own band, Johnson performed his latest single, “Human.” In accepting his trophy from Warner Music Nashville labelmates Dan+Shay, Johnson noted that he has been with his manager Howie Edelman for 11 years, based on a handshake deal.

“I believe in country music… and will give it everything I’ve got,” Johnson said.

Tanya Tucker introduced a segment focused on Lynn, saying, “She guided me through this business. I grew up singing her fightin’, drinkin’, cheatin’ songs… she went from being my hero to my great friend.”

Lynn’s sisters Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue performed Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as the audience stood to its feet and gave an extended ovation. “We had a really good friendship, and I just really appreciated her,” Jackson later told the audience.

As the evening concluded, Jackson thanked CMT for playing his videos over the years, noting that he’s created approximately 60 country music videos during his career. Jackson has also notched 26 No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and 51 top 10 hits.

He recalled his range of music videos, which have included water skiing in boots (“Chattahoochee”), car races and monster trucks.

“I always believed videos were important to music,” he said. “I argued with some record executive a couple times about how important they were back in the ‘90s. I thought people would watch in the background and listen to music, hear your songs, even [during times] when they didn’t hear it on the radio.”

Tribute videos to Jackson from several of the evening’s fellow honorees, as well as one from former President George W. Bush, were played — including a humorous anecdote from Hayes, who said he used to burn CDs of his own songs and throw them into Jackson’s backyard in Nashville, hoping he might hear them.

As it turned out, Brown’s performance of “Like I Love Country Music,” with its reference to “Chattahoochee,” was a foreshadowing of the evening, as Jackson closed out the ceremony. The mood in the room was already festive, but as Jackson strapped on his guitar, that celebration became “hotter than a hoochie coochie.”

“I’ve been really blessed of course with everything, and so thankful for all my fans and all my music and everybody,” he concluded.

Jessica Nicholson