LAS VEGAS — Country music's hottest artists are hitting the red carpet for tonight's Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas (CBS, 8 ET/tape delay PT).
PRE-SHOW JITTERS: "I'm actually afraid of winning. Then I'll have to get up and actually speak," says Lee Brice, up for five awards tonight. While in Vegas, he and his wife, Sara, enjoying drinking Jack and Cokes at the MGM Grand's Signature pool. "If I ever have free time in Vegas, I like to go relax by the pool."
'KEEP ON WRITING': "When I come to Vegas, I'm always working so I really want to come and enjoy it next time," Martina McBride says, adding that she really wants to see Celine Dion and Britney Spears' residency shows. As for advice she'd give to aspiring songwriters? "Just keep on writing."
MOVING FAST: "I've been up since 4 a.m. and I've been going 90 miles per hour,"Way Out Here singer Josh Thompson says. "I've got some friends up for awards so I'm really excited to see everyone."
JESSICA RABBIT: "I'm wearing my dream dress," says Cassadee Pope, who's drawn comparisons to Disney character Jessica Rabbit tonight. "I've always wanted to wear a red dress on the red carpet." Next month, "I'm really excited to tour with Tim McGraw. I know that I'm going to learn a lot from him."
'FANCY SUIT': "I'm wearing a traditional country suit, I've always wanted one," Helluva Life singer Frankie Ballard says. "It was my gift to myself for coming to the ACMs … I'm taking my fancy suit to the craps table later. If I can't win in this suit, I'll never win."
A GAMBLING MAN: "I've doubled my money, so I'm up $25," Charlie Worsham says of gambling in Vegas. "My advice is only bet one time." On a musical note, "I really love performing for my fans that don't really know me yet, so then we can become friends."
KEEPING HIS MONEY CLOSE: "I'd like to give props to whoever was making strawberry daiquiris at the Tropicana (hotel) pool yesterday," Keep Them Kisses Comin' singer Craig Campbell says. When he hits the casinos, "I'm a terrible gambler, so I keep the money in my pocket."
VIVA LAS VEGAS: While on the Strip, Voice winner Danielle Bradbery has gotten to ride the roller coaster at New York-New York Hotel & Casino. "I'm also excited to do some shopping before I go," she says. It's the first time in Vegas for up-and-comerJoel Crouse since turning 21, he says. He adds that his drink of choice is Jim Beamwhiskey and he's "definitely going to the hit the tables" at the casinos before he leaves.
JUST HAVING FUN: "Tonight is the night to let your hair down," says Take the Keyssinger Lea Turner. "I rarely have time just to have fun." She's looking forward to switching out of her red-carpet dress and going ziplining before leaving town.
FOR THE FANS: "I really want to go to the Pawn Stars shop" in downtown Las Vegas, says Austin Webb, who's here "just to hang out with my fans." What's his coolest Vegas moment thus far? Hearing his song on the radio during a cab ride.
HIGH ROLLERS: "We're just here to party," says Natalie Stovall. She says The Drive hopes to have time to ride the High Roller roller coaster and loves the Walking Deadslot machines in the casinos.
COMFORT FIRST: After rocking a "heavy" gold-plated gown at the 2009 ACMs, Red High Heels singer Kellie Pickler put comfort first in selecting this evening's dress. "I tell people its not important to go with what's in style but whatever compliments and makes you feel good," Pickler told USA TODAY last week. "As long as you're happy and confident with what you're wearing, it doesn't matter what anybody else likes or not."
A 'SPECIAL THING': Speaking from the Whiskey Down lounge at Vegas' MGM Grand Friday night, new-artist nominee Kip Moore says that the nomination is a "special thing" to him. "It lets you know that your journey hasn't been in vain, that people are recognizing what you do. It's killer."
Going into tonight's event — where he'll compete against Brett Eldredge and Justin Moore (no relation) — Moore says he has no plans to prepare a speech. "I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it, to be honest," Moore says. "It's one of those things that's out of my control. The way that I am with this kind of stuff, the speech will come to me off the cuff if I did happen to win."
CHOCOLATE THERAPY: Touring means "eating out of gas stations — sometimes you don't get to eat the healthiest, so I've been really trying to be good this past week or so," Lindsay Ell told USA TODAY Thursday night at 95.5 The Bull's All-Star Guitar Pull concert in Vegas. "(But) by the end of (tonight), I'm definitely going to need some chocolate."
Contributing: Julianna Erdesz in Las Vegas