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August 27, 2014

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ACM Awards preview: Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, George Strait face off

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ACM/Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Shania Twain presents the Entertainer of the Year Award to Luke Bryan at the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 7, 2013.

2013 ACM Awards at MGM Grand

Luke Bryan holds his awards for Entertainer of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year at the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand on Sunday, April 7, 2013. Launch slideshow »

2013 ACM Awards: Rehearsals

Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan rehearse for the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, April 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Singer Taylor Swift arrives for the 48th ACM Awards at the MGM Grand Sunday, April 7, 2013.

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Singer Carrie Underwood arrivee for the 48th ACM Awards at the MGM Grand Sunday, April 7, 2013.

The battle for Entertainer of the Year at Sunday’s 2014 ACM Awards will continue right up until the final 30 minutes, and it could fracture families and friends when the winner is announced. It’s just one of many surprises for the three-hour CBS broadcast from MGM Grand Garden Arena revealed this morning.

Executive producers Barry Adelman and R.A Clark and Jack Sussman, CBS exec for specials and live programming, said it’s a feud of five made for Las Vegas: “Our two hosts, Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, are up against each other, but then Blake’s wife, Miranda Lambert, could topple both of them.

“Taylor Swift represents today’s youth and excitement of country music, or will the King, George Strait conquer all of them as he goes off into retirement?

“The fans vote for this, so it’s a hold-your-breath, edge-of-the-seat surprise right up until the announcement at the end of the show. This year because we’re broadcasting for the first time in Australia, plus Canada, there will be international votes coming in that will really make it a nail biter!”

Voting is already 120,000 more than at this point a year ago — six days before the telecast. Voting continues until 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT, cutting off at the final 30 minutes of the Las Vegas transmission.

Producers revealed that in another first, multiplatinum singer-songwriter Shakira will perform her single “Medicine” in a duet with Blake. They also let slip that we can expect “a really cool, great, unique moment” with Brad Paisley and confirmed that Stevie Nicks will perform a duet with Lady Antebellum.

Las Vegas Metro Police officers will provide a special escort for Luke during the 8- to 10-minute window he has to get to Mandalay Bay for his live remote satellite performance with Florida Georgia Line at the Fan Jam in Mandalay Bay Events Center — and then back to MGM Grand for the awards.

“We’ll do it without breaking any laws,” Jack told me and laughingly added, “If we can’t get a NASCAR driver at the wheel, though, Robin you’re next up.”

During Sunday’s broadcast, George will appear with an as-yet-unidentified VIP guest to make a big announcement about next year’s 50th anniversary awards. I did learn that CBS execs and technical crew will look at the new Linq this week as a possible third satellite location for next year.

Another major highlight will be the presentation of the Crystal Milestone Award to one of the greatest country music icons of all time: Merle Haggard. Former recipient and Wynn resident superstar Garth Brooks will present the statuette to commemorate Merle’s prolific half-century in country music — and the only artist ever to have performed at the White House after having served time at San Quentin. The new tribute album, “Working Man’s Poet,” of Merle’s music with a galaxy of country stars, is released Tuesday via Walmart.

The Academy of Country Music has partnered for the first time this year with Caesars Entertainment, and now with the MGM Resorts’ partnership, they are teamed with 80 percent of the Strip. The ACMs moved here 10 years ago.

The Linq will host Hunter Hayes’ free kick-off concert Thursday for the Week Vegas Goes Country, and the ACM Party for a Cause continues there Friday and Saturday with 20 music acts over the 48 hours headlined by Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line and Keith Urban.

“Country is getting younger and new faces are becoming the big stars of today, so Hunter will play a big part in this year’s show,” Jack added. “The Band Perry will open the show with something that it is pretty amazing. We have a number of special surprises we won’t talk about yet until they happen live onstage throughout the show.”

Last year, a record 15 1/2 million viewers tuned into the Las Vegas show, more than 2 million more than in 2012. The 2013 ratings were the biggest and best in 15 years.

“We believe with more country superstars than ever before, the incredible and unexpected duets and the other surprises, we’ll do even better this year,” said Bob Romeo, CEO of the Academy. “We’re on our way to Las Vegas ready to ride a real wave for three hours live.”

CBS cameras will record an additional two-hour special Monday night for May broadcast with a “Salute to Our Troops” benefit for the Lifting Lives charity hosted by LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell of “NCIS: Los Angeles.” Their concert event will feature the biggest names in country music, including Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Lady Antebellum, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice, Luke Bryan, Hunter Hayes, Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw.

Check back to Vegas DeLuxe on Thursday as the Week Vegas Goes Country gets underway for the full rundown of all the events, parties and concerts.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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