updated 05/18/2008 AT 11:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/18/2008 AT 11:45 PM ET
What happens in Vegas usually stays in Vegas. But this time Kenny Chesney might want to ignore that rule and tell all his friends about his night in Sin City. The singer won the coveted entertainer of the year award at the 43rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
“This one is really extra special because long before I had a hit record, the fans always came to the shows. And I want to thank you guys for voting and for being there for me,” said Chesney when accepting his award, which fans voted on for the first time. This is the singer’s fourth consecutive win in that category, tying Garth Brooks for the honor.
After winning the night’s most important award, Chesney, 40, criticized the Academy’s new method for picking the entertainer of the year by using fan votes. He said the organization had turned the category “into a sweepstakes to see who can push people’s buttons the hardest on the Internet.”
Brooks, who has won a total of 18 ACMs throughout his career, was the first artist to receive the Academy’s Crystal Milestone Award. Dick Clark, Jay Leno, and Billy Joel were among the stars who congratulated him via satellite.
Other major winners of the night included Miranda Lambert’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” for album of the year, Sugarland’s “Stay” for song of the year and Lady Antebellum for best new duo/vocal group. (Check out their People.com video diary here.)
Miranda Lambert heated things up with “Gun Powder and Lead.” Then, Swift cooled the stage back down with her dripping wet performance of “Should’ve Said No,” during which she danced in water pouring from the ceiling.
After performing solo, Chesney and George Strait, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, teamed up to sing their nominated duet “Shiftwork” for the first time live.
After LeAnn Rimes, Montgomery Gentry closed the show, which was hosted by Reba McEntire for the tenth time.