The country stars already know how they’re going to celebrate.
“We’re planning matching tattoos to commemorate our 10-year anniversary,” Underwood says.
“Yeah, we both got them,” Paisley adds. “Carrie has two or three more tattoos than I do at this point.”
They’re joking, of course – and if you’ve watched them host the CMAs over the last decade, you probably already knew that.
As co-hosts, Underwood and Paisley deliver the show’s opening monologue. And while that segment is fueled by irreverent humor, it’s also the closest thing country music has to a “State of the Union” address. For 10 minutes on primetime television, the outside world peers in on the foreign land of Music Row.
In the past, it has also been the rare moment when the country music industry comments on current events. In 2011, after Hank Williams, Jr. was booted from Monday Night Football for remarks made about then-President Barack Obama, he popped up to sing with Underwood and Paisley.
Last year – one week before Election Day – the duo spoofed the presidential debates, with Paisley following Underwood around the stage and calling her "Crooked Carrie.” In other years, they’ve touched on everything from Obamacare to Gangnam Style.
But 2017 has provided the co-hosts with a true challenge. On top of a divisive political climate, the last few months have seen a series of devastating storms and natural disasters. Then, on October 1, a country music festival became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
“This isn’t the easiest year to do comedy,” Paisley says. “But it’s also in some ways the most important (year). Because there’s two ways you could go about this show, and I prefer the one that’s uplifting, and takes us and says ‘It’s more important than ever that we play country music. It’s more important than ever that we laugh, and that we love one another and come together.’”
As usual, the duo aims to keep the details of their CMA opening a secret, but they think they’ve struck the right balance.
“There was a lot to sift through, but we can find enough humorous things that everyone can laugh at,” Underwood says. “But we have some serious moments in the show as well.”
It's safe to assume those serious moments will include a tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas shootings.
CMA chief executive Sarah Trahern told USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee that this year's show will remain upbeat, but will also include "several poignant and memorable moments for us to reflect on the past year.”
Even though a month has passed, the shock of the tragedy in Vegas is still top of mind in our community," Trahern said. "What many of our colleagues and fans experienced will long be remembered together as we try to understand and heal.”
Underwood and Paisley say they spend three months officially planning the show, but ideas hit them year round.
“Shoot, I got a text from Carrie in May one year that said ‘Tim (McGraw) and Faith (Hill) have Barbies!’” Paisley recalls.
Months later, in the 2011 monologue, the two unwrapped the dolls onstage – with the real McGraw and Hill laughing in the audience.
“From now until (showtime), I don’t think there will be an hour in the day that we’re not kind of thinking, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if that could be something we talk about,’" Paisley says. "Our radar is out.”
“We love being the faces of the CMAs, but it’s also a great responsibility,” Underwood says. “We’re just so proud of country music, and want the world to see what we’ve got.”
How to watch
The 51st annual CMA Awards will air live on ABC at 7 p.m. CT Wednesday, November 8. Before the show, watch the Tennessean's livestream of the red carpet at www.tennessean.com
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