The reality, though, is Shelton capped one of the most impressive career reboots in country music history with the win. About three years ago, he was searching for a hit or a gimmick that might return him to the top of the charts, without much luck. He scored a novelty hit with Trace Adkins called "Hillbilly Bone," began a run of hits and then joined "The Voice" in a move that made him an instant celebrity outside the country world.
He hasn't sold as many records as Swift, whose "Red" just moved 1.2 million copies in its first week, or as many concert tickets as Chesney or Aldean. But his leading-man looks, wicked sense of humor, Twitter presence and mellow baritone have made him one of country's top stars.
While Shelton didn't give himself much of a shot, Lambert — who also won her third straight female vocalist of the year award — thought he fit the definition of entertainer of the year after doing a little research.
"I realized that it just meant not only touring numbers, not only ticket sales or how much production you have, but the way that you represent country music within a year," Lambert said. "The media that you do and the work that you do and the TV shows that you are on and how you represent yourself and how you speak out about country music. When you think about it that way, Blake Shelton deserved to win that trophy tonight."
Shelton's victory was just one of many surprises during the awards. Quartet Little Big Town joined Lambert with two wins apiece, taking home vocal group and single of the year for "Pontoon." And Thompson Square's Shawna and Keifer Thompson won vocal duo of the year, ending Sugarland's five-year run in that category.