Supporting cast of technicians help ACM artists shine

Carrie Underwood stands calm and composed with a smile on her face at the top of wrought iron stairs.

About a hundred others, not so calm, hurry around her and beneath her, the set and on the connecting stages.

A little more than 24 hours later, the country singer climbed down those stairs as she made her performance entrance to the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday night at the MGM Grand.

But if she’s nervous, it doesn’t show.

“Everyone please clear the stage, we’re gonna run this,” a voice says over the speakers.

The track, “Church Bells,” starts, and with it, Underwood’s flawless voice. With one note, she takes everyone in the sparsely attended Saturday afternoon rehearsal to, well, church.

Effortlessly, she makes her first of three “passes,” or runs through her performance, look like it’s her hundredth. Everyone else knows their piece to the academy’s 51st-show puzzle, too.

Lighting, flooring, choreography, wardrobe, camera angles and sound are all checked.

“Somebody’s gonna fall, like, I would put money on it,” Underwood says with a smirk, asking the crew to fix a spot in the center of the stage.

Adjustments are made, and Underwood changes into very high heels.

Now, wearing denim overalls, a T-shirt and the heels, she returns to her stairs for a second pass — they’re ready to take it up a notch.

Near the end of the performance, Underwood and two guitar players are blasted with the amount of smoke you normally only see in Fourth of July skies.

“It’s cold,” she laughs. And it is, for at least the first 10 rows.

Fewer adjustments are needed for the third and final pass, but the bustle did not stop. Men and women, some in suits and others carrying lights and wires through the arena, barely look up from their tasks as it begins.

It’s time to put the shoes, the smoke, the stairs and the pyrotechnics together.

“Does everybody know where the flares are?” asks a man.

The drummers accompanying Underwood and her band members acknowledge that they do.

She, and everyone else involved, nails it.

Lights in the arena come back on, revealing the behind-the-scene efforts put into the show’s production.

Walls slide down from the ceiling, blocking the view to the stage as the set is changed out.

Underwood is one of about 25 artists who performed and rehearsed in the arena — and her set is more elaborate than others.

Only moments after Underwood disappears following her rehearsal’s completion, Sam Hunt appears on a smaller stage in the middle of the floor seats, sitting at a white piano.

With a stretch to the ceiling from Hunt, dressed casually and wearing a red baseball cap, the small audience erupts with “oohs” and “ahs.”

There won’t be any pyros from the production team during his performance, but the onlookers felt fireworks as he took his first pass at “Make You Miss Me.”

Several people sitting nearby are asked to help in the rehearsal by standing beneath the stage to clap during the song’s bridge. Few of them are on beat, but they got the job done.

After the second run-through, Hunt chats with organizers around him, but his mic is off, and their conversation is private.

The focus is getting the right shots from the camera and sound.

Depending on what goes into the production of each performance, rehearsals last about 30 to 90 minutes.

On this day, breaks in the performances are spent practicing announcers’ and hosts’ parts by stand-ins. Those involved are busy, but not outwardly stressed.

Whether the stage is filled with dancers and singers or just one person, it takes a village to put on the Dick Clark Productions-made awards show — and this is one happy village.

Contact Kimberly De La Cruz at or 702-387-5244. Find her on Twitter: @KimberlyinLV.

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