Fans may be in for a few surprises Sunday night at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
With Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan co-hosting, everyone expects the unexpected -- and several off-color, unscripted moments -- as country music's biggest cut-ups collide on stage. A recent interview in Nashville with the two, who have given themselves the celebrity couple name "Bluke," veered wildly from a discussion of Bryan's unworthiness to host to crude jokes and Taylor Swift's fans.
"I would tell him to be prepared for the onslaught of hatred that will come from Taylor Swift's fan base if you say any sort of a joke or if she's any part of a punch line in the monologue," Shelton said when asked what advice he'd give Bryan. "By the way, you're getting all those jokes this year."
The 48th annual awards show kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Sunday night from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The night will be a showcase for country's men of the moment -- and for its two dominant male stars of the last two decades.
Many of the top names in country music will perform or appear, including top nominees Eric Church and Hunter Hayes, but most eyes will be on the marquee meeting of Garth Brooks and George Strait. Brooks and Strait, two of music's top-selling artists regardless of genre, have never performed together.
They will help honor the show's longtime producer Dick Clark, who passed away last year. The academy is naming its artist of the decade award for Clark, whose tenure with the show began in 1979.
The moment will be special - and not just for the millions watching at home. It has country's biggest stars abuzz as well.
"Having George and Garth on stage together at one time on an awards show will become one of the most important pieces of tape in country music history," Dierks Bentley said.
Church leads all nominees with seven, while Hayes is up for six awards. Shelton, Bryan and Jason Aldean -- country's top three male stars of the moment - are up for the fan-voted entertainer of the year award - though they're facing off against academy favorite Miranda Lambert, who is Shelton's wife, and two-time winner Taylor Swift, a heavy favorite to three-peat given her relationship with fans.
Shelton is arguably country's most visible male star today. As a coach on the singing competition "The Voice," Shelton has a weekly presence on national television. He was the recent winner of the rival Country Music Association's entertainer of the year award and has risen to platinum status again after a mid-career lull that's a distant memory.
Aldean is country's best-selling male artist at the moment and Church and Bryan have recently joined him as acts who can fill arenas and reach multiplatinum sales.
They're so prevalent at this year's awards, they've elbowed out traditional nominees like Brad Paisley, who was shut out of the nominations for the first time since 1999, and Kenny Chesney, a perennial entertainer of the year nominee who was left out of the category despite putting on 2012's most talked about event - his stadium tour with Tim McGraw.
Shelton will kick off the show with a performance of his new single "Boys 'Round Here" that will include appearances by Bryan, Brad Paisley, who's also hosting the academy's concurrent Fan Jam a mile (1.6 kilometers) down the road at The Orleans, Sheryl Crow and Lambert's trio the Pistol Annies.
Hayes will be joined by another performer who got his start as a precocious teen -- Stevie Wonder, making his first appearance on the show.
Aldean, Chesney, McGraw, Bentley, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson also are scheduled to perform.
And there will be a slew of presenters, too, including Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, Gary Allan, Chris Young, Eli Young Band Beth Behrs, Michael Chiklis, Sheryl Crow, Kaley Cuoco, John Fogerty, Kevin Frazier, Colin Kaepernick, Miranda Lambert, Scotty McCreery, Kacey Musgraves, Nancy O'Dell, Jake Owen, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Tori Kelly and LL Cool J.
Church was nominated for the second consecutive year for album of the year for his breakthrough "Chief." He's up against Swift's "Red," Underwood's "Blown Away," Bryan's "Tailgates & Tanlines" and Little Big Town's "Tornado." Producer Jay Joyce has two nominations in the category with Church and Little Big Town.
Shelton and Lambert will defend their male and female vocalist of the year wins. Shelton faces Church, Bryan, Aldean and Toby Keith, while Lambert competes with Underwood, Swift, Martina McBride and newcomer Kacey Musgraves.