Reba McEntire knows the drill as ACM Awards host

McEntire will host the show for the 17th time; it takes place on Thursday at The Star in Frisco.

Reba McEntire will emcee the 59th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the Ford Center...Reba McEntire will emcee the 59th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco. It’s the show’s second year in a row at the venue.(DON EMMERT / Getty Images)

Reba McEntire is practically synonymous with the Academy of Country Music Awards, having won 16 of the awards and either hosted or cohosted the show 16 times since 1986. On Thursday, she’ll emcee the 59th annual awards, which is taking place at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco for a second straight year.

Yet she wonders if she’d earn a single nomination if she were starting out today.

“I doubt I would’ve made it out of Oklahoma,” she says, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where she’s getting ready to tape The Voice, the NBC reality series on which she serves as a coach.

“Their confidence level is astounding,” she says of today’s young vocalists. “It’s like they’ve been doing it their whole lives.”

Like her fellow country legend Dolly Parton — who cohosted the ACMAs last year — McEntire is full of self-deprecating quips delivered in a Southern twang, a byproduct of her upbringing on a cattle ranch in Chockie, Okla., where she had to castrate bulls.

“I’m very grateful I got the slow start I did,” the 69-year-old singer says of her initial move to Nashville. “It took me from ′76 to ′83 to get a No. 1 record. I knew nothing about the business, and people around me taught me and mentored me. I wasn’t thrown into the deep end of the pool.”
Country music legend Reba McEntire performed before friends, officials and media gathered...Country music legend Reba McEntire performed before friends, officials and media gathered for the opening of her new restaurant, Reba’s Place, in downtown Atoka, Okla., Jan. 26, 2023.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Slowly but surely, Reba became a member of country’s royalty and an acting star, too. She’s appeared in dozens of TV shows and films and on Broadway, where she starred in Annie Get Your Gun.

More than 40 years later, she still has fond memories of taking home her first trophies from the ACMAs and the Country Music Awards (CMAs).

“Mom and I had been waiting on this day for so long, hoping and praying it would come true. I was thrilled to death!”

Suffice to say she doesn’t agree with skeptics who say there are too many awards — besides the ACMAs and CMAs, there are the CMT Music Awards, American Music Awards, Grammys and more — or those who dismiss the very concept of a competition for a subjective art form like music.

“I always thought that award shows were the greatest promotion and publicity,” she says. “To get nominated, to be able to sing your song on TV, is very beneficial to a person’s career, no matter what level you’re at.”

McEntire will debut an unreleased new tune at the ACMs, “I Can’t,” which she describes as “a strong woman’s song.” Other performers announced so far include Texans Post Malone, Miranda Lambert, Cody Johnson and Parker McCollum as well as Chris Stapleton, Jason Alden, Jelly Roll and Kane Brown.

Brown, who is biracial, is one of the few artists of color to be nominated. (Another is the country-gospel duo The War And Treaty.) McEntire said she’d love it if country were more colorblind, echoing growing calls since Beyoncé released “Cowboy Carter” and said she “did not feel welcomed” by country music tastemakers in the past.

“You know what? I don’t care who’s singing or what color you are. Are they good? If they’re not, let’s not play ‘em. But if it’s a good song and a great singer, they should be on the radio.”
Dolly Parton arrives on the red carpet during the 58th Academy of Country Music Awards on...Dolly Parton arrives on the red carpet during the 58th Academy of Country Music Awards on Thursday, May 11, 2023 at The Star in Frisco. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

She points out that in 2022 she hired up-and-coming Black country singer Brittney Spencer to open shows for her.

“There’s so much I learned from Reba, and she didn’t say a word,” Spencer told The Washington Post in January. “Even learning the etiquette of how to handle yourself or how to handle other people — it’s been artists like her that have been very instrumental.” Spencer said McEntire’s boyfriend, actor Rex Linn, turned Reba on to her music.

For most of its history, the Nashville-based Academy of Country Music has staged its awards show in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Thursday’s show brings the ACMAs back to the 12,000-seat Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters.

McEntire is no stranger to the blue and white star. In 1997, she sang at the Thanksgiving halftime show, and in 2009 she performed as part of the festivities when AT&T Stadium, aka “JerryWorld,” opened. (It was then called Cowboys Stadium.)

She says her ACMA opening monologue at The Star “will be all in good fun” — just don’t expect her to toss any zingers at the formidable Cowboys owner.

“Oh, no. Jerry Jones and I are good buddies,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings at all.”

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