Jelly Roll and Wynonna Judd started the 2023 CMA Awards off strong with a surprise duet: Judd joined Jelly for his show-opening rendition of "Need a Favor."

The pairing as a standout moment for the audience, and that wasn't all. Backstage after the performance, Judd told press that singing with Jelly was one of the "Top 10" moments of her career.

"He's so powerful and great at what he does. I was so nervous and so excited [to perform with him]," she said. "I don't know how many of these moments I have left, but I can tell you this, that was Top 10 for me."

"Jelly Roll is a force to be reckoned with and he's his own person. Getting to stand toe-to-toe with him was one of the best things I've ever done."

If they seem like an unlikely duo, there's good reason for that: Judd and Jelly come from two very different country music eras and worlds, and until 2023, Judd had no idea who he was. But that all changed when she saw his breakout performance on the stage of the 2023 CMT Music Awards. That was the first major awards show he participated in, and he swept all his categories.

He also left an enormous impression on Judd as she was sitting in the audience.

"I stood up out of my seat because he rocked my world," she recounted. "I ran up to him and Bunnie afterwards and said, 'I need to know the two of you. I need to be a part of your world, and I don't know what that looks like, so here we are.'"

"I think you have to take a step out and have faith, and say 'What do you want? I'll do whatever,'"' she added, speaking about the process of forging a connection.

Since then, Jelly and Judd have held true to that first conversation. His rendition of "Love Can Build a Bridge" with R&B star K. Michelle is featured on the just-released tribute album to the Judds. Jelly and K. Michelle are set to perform that song later on during the 2023 CMA Awards.

2023 CMA Awards Red Carpet Pictures

See the best dressed from the 2023 CMA Awards red carpet.

The 2023 CMA Awards aired live on ABC from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 8. Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning hosted the show for a second straight year. Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Lainey Wilson and Morgan Wallen were nominated in the Entertainer of the Year category.

Gallery Credit: Billy Dukes

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