UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- A theme of redemption filled the Academy of Country Music Awards as several once-fading artists reclaimed the spotlight.
The Dixie Chicks and Lee Ann Womack claimed top honors Wednesday night with three awards each, but the emotional peak came when Kenny Rogers and Barbara Mandrell accepted career-honoring awards.
Grinning on stage, Rogers, 62, thanked his wife Wanda, who beamed back at him from the audience. "Wanda was with me when nobody cared," he told the crowd. "That was a long time, wasn't it?"
Dubbed the Career Achievement Award, Rogers' honor recognizes a country performer who has returned to popularity after falling out of favor. It has been presented only three times in the show's 36-year history.
Mandrell took home the surprise Pioneer Award, which recognizes an artist who has expanded the boundaries of country music.
The 52-year-old Mandrell, who has retired from performing to spend time with her children, said the award made her miss the stage, but showed her influence was not forgotten.
Even chart-topping musicians Toby Keith, who won best album and male vocalist, and Brooks & Dunn, who won best duo, said their awards mark a renewed energy and signified their return to top form.
Martie Seidel of the Dixie Chicks, which took home honors for entertainer of the year, top vocal group and best video, said such words gave her pause.
"Just when I thought (the awards) were going to stop tonight, they didn't," she said. "But I'm preparing for the day when they do."
The night's honors marked a career total of seven awards for the all-women band.
Even the 18-year-old host, LeAnn Rimes, joined the comeback theme.
Rimes, who was 13 in 1996 when she scored the hit "Blue," is currently involved in lawsuits against her father and record company over a contract she signed as a minor.
The singer mocked her legal woes and recent tabloid headlines with a parody of Rogers' broken-heart hit "Lucille."
"They say she's dyslexic, that she's anorexic, that she's gone and run off with a fan," Rimes sang. "Tell me what's going on with LeAnn."
Womack won for best single, song and vocal event for "I Hope You Dance," which she performed with the neo-country band Sons of the Desert.
Winners were selected by nearly 3,000 voting members of the Academy of Country Music.
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