2021 CMA Awards: 5 Best Performances

by Jim Casey
(Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for CMA)

The 55th CMA Awards on November 10 featured performances from some of country music’s biggest hitters, as well as one of the brightest stars outside the genre.

Solo performances were delivered by Jimmie Allen (“Freedom Was a Highway”), Gabby Barrett (“The Good Ones”), Brothers Osborne (“Younger Me”), Luke Bryan (“Up”), Eric Church (“Heart on Fire”), Luke Combs (“Doin’ This”), Dan + Shay (“I Should Probably Go to Bed”), Miranda Lambert (medley), Old Dominion (“I Was on a Boat That Day”), Thomas Rhett (“Country Again”), Blake Shelton (“Come Back as a Country Boy”), Chris Stapleton (“Cold”), Keith Urban (“Wild Hearts), and Zac Brown Band (“Same Boat”).

The night also featured plenty of memorable collaborations, including Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood (“If I Didn’t Love You”), Dierks Bentley featuring Breland and Hardy (“Beers on Me”), Mickey Guyton featuring Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards (“Love My Hair”), Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde (“Never Wanted to Be That Girl”), Chris Young and Kane Brown (“Famous Friends”), and Jennifer Hudson with Chris Stapleton (“Night Life” and “You Are My Sunshine”).

Let’s check out the Top 5 Best Performances of the night—from my purely subjective opinion.

5. Luke Combs – ‘Doin’ This’

There’s a good reason Luke Combs ended the night by winning his first CMA Entertainer of the Year Award—he’s entertaining. Perhaps the only thing riskier than opening the show—honorable mention for Miranda’s medley—is debuting a new song. Luke did just that with “Doin’ This,” and, man, he delivered. The connection was immediate. He could have played it safe with any number of his recent hits, but instead gave us a bonafide future hit.

4. Ashley McBryde & Carly Pearce – ‘Never Wanted to Be That Girl’

Two powerful vocalists teaming up for a live duet can be a recipe for one-upmanship at the CMA Awards. However, Ashley and Carly are a helluva complementary combo. They feed off each other. In fact, I’m ready for them to announce an entire album of duets.

3. Chris Stapleton – ‘Cold’

I’ve said it plenty of times before, but I’ll say it again: Chris Stapleton should win Male Vocalist of the Year at every CMA Awards. Vocally, he is unmatched in the genre. Rightfully, he picked up his fifth trophy in the category, as well as Single, Song, and Album of the Year. His performance of “Cold,” from his award-winning album, Starting Over, was chilling—in the best kind of way.

2. Eric Church – ‘Heart on Fire’

Eric Church was built for live performances. He lit up the stage with his rendition of “Heart on Fire” at the CMA Awards. Eric’s live performances at awards shows and during his tour are so captivating, I have a hard time going back to his albums. But I do.

1. Jennifer Hudson ‘Night Life’ & ‘You Are My Sunshine’ with Chris Stapleton

Wow. Just wow. If you weren’t blown away by Jennifer Hudson’s vocals, you need to have your hearing checked. “Night Life” was out of this world. When she joined forces with Chris for “You Are My Sunshine,” she was out of this galaxy. What an ear-opening treat for country-centric listeners. You could see it on the faces of every country artist in attendance.