Push pause on focusing on where women aren't in country music — the 2018 ACM Awards were a glimpse at what's possible. Women dominated!

From top to bottom, Sunday night's (April 15) show was a consistent, exciting telecast that featured two dozen in-genre performances and reached very rarely for something meant to inspire ratings. A Jonas Brother was never paired with a rising country star. Katy Perry didn't turn up. Even though he was a block away, Justin Timblerake wasn't invited. The ACM Awards kept it country.

Producers also gave the format's top female artists a chance to shine, and they glimmered. Carrie Underwood's performance of "Cry Pretty" was heavily promoted, highly anticipated and in the end, phenomenal. She won the night, and not just because of the curiosity that came with wanting to see her face for the first time post-fall. Underwood won because a timid, vulnerable performance became something bold and beautiful before our very eyes. This was more than vintage Carrie Underwood — this was watching the most gifted vocalist in our genre find her voice again.

Host Reba McEntire proved wrong anyone who called for a more contemporary show leader. The legend was sharp, witty and on-point from the word go, rarely missing the mark with any of her tightly-worded jokes, but if she did, she moved on like a true professional. It would be a shame if the 63-year-old isn't invited back in 2019. As the show ebbed and flowed, McEntire injected comedy and light, bringing us back after flat, truncated performances by artists in the New Artist divisions, and Chris Young. Luke Bryan also missed an opportunity at becoming memorable with a predictable performance of "Most People Are Good," a song that turns bad moods around when it plays on the radio.

As they often do, Billboard ranked all 25 performances from last to first, and in 2018 female artists make up eight of the Top 10 ACMs moments. Kelsea Ballerini's theatric performance of "I Hate Love Songs" and Maren Morris' confident, sexy showgirl number "Rich" were highlights, but not to be forgotten is Miranda Lambert's "Keeper of the Flame" and Lauren Alaina's addition to Kane Brown's "What Ifs." This was one of the most viral performances of the night, with viewers searching to learn more about the "Heaven" singer. Like Bebe Rexha earlier on, Alaina was much more than decoration. Her chemistry with the country newcomer was pure rapture.

Kelly Clarkson joined McEntire to sing "Does He Love You" late in the show, slipping into the same controversial red dress she wore during a 1993 CMA Awards performance of the same song with Linda Davis. This was Billboard and Taste of Country's second-best moment and one of very few we'll talk about in years to come. It's the nature of awards shows — no one really cares who wins (Think fast! Which song won Single of the Year?), but if the show is executed properly we hang onto an emotion that drives tune-in when the calendar turns over.

See the Best Photos from the 2018 ACM Awards

In choosing to compartmentalize the Route 91 Harvest Festival tribute and focus on non-political, in-genre performances, the ACM producers took a chance. Done wrong the show would have smelled as dusty as your grandmother's couch — you can't rest at nostalgia during Country Music's Biggest Party — but done right, it'd be universal. This was a volatile cocktail that strived to please everyone, and thanks to McEntire, Underwood, Morris, Alaina and more, it did just that.

There is definitely a long way to go before anything that looks like gender equality exists in country music, but this was a good night! Eleven of 25 performances featured women, with eight showcasing women as the leaders (can we please stop ignoring the female-fronted Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town when it comes to adding up women on the radio?!). That's not mathematically equal, but it's progress. Celebrate it.

See More Photos from the 2018 ACM Awards Red Carpet!

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