No one will begrudge Strait the win, including co-hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, who were also nominated in the category with Lambert and Taylor Swift.
"Our hero," Shelton said in a genuine moment. "Our hero won tonight!"
Until that point Bryan and Shelton had overshadowed much of the ceremony, held in Las Vegas. Urban and Lambert tied for the most trophies but it was Lambert's husband, Shelton, and Bryan who were on a winning streak.
They deftly stole the show with a mix of self-deprecating, celebrity-skewering jokes and two performances apiece. And as Shelton noted, he also gets to share Lambert's bed.
"Honestly, I think we're the biggest celebrities in the room," Shelton said during the show's funniest moment a re-creation of Ellen DeGeneres' selfie moment at the Oscars and it may just be true.
Shelton is the star of "The Voice" and a platinum-selling hitmaker with 11 straight No. 1s. Bryan is the reigning entertainer of the year, and both were up for that award again this year with Lambert, Taylor Swift and George Strait, the genre's top stars.
They zinged Eric Church over the likelihood of finding marijuana in his dressing room, poked fun at Britney Spears (who performs on the Las Vegas strip) and ribbed Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in the audience, about his team's disappointing playoff record (Shelton and Bryan announced the 50th edition of the ACM Awards will be held at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium next year).
Each performed twice with Shelton offering a subdued but powerful version of his song "My Eyes," playing an acoustic guitar while seated with Gwen Sebastian at his side, before returning flanked by Shakira on their duet "Medicine." Bryan performed "Play It Again" while standing on a revolving replica of a vinyl album, then teamed with vocal duo of the year winner Florida Georgia Line on "This Is How We Roll."
Lambert did her best to upstage her husband, who gave her a peck on the forehead after she won single record of the year for "Mama's Broken Heart," co-written by Kacey Musgraves. Lambert also won her fifth straight female vocalist of the year award.
"I was just hanging out with (presenter) Trisha Yearwood back there, holy crap, and I was standing next to Sheryl Crow, a complete and utter rock star," Lambert said of Crow, a fellow nominee. She also spoke about others in the category: "Kacey Musgraves, I grew up with her. She wrote the single of the year this year. And Carrie Underwood's my buddy, y'all, and she's a phenomenon. I can't believe it, I'm so grateful and humbled. I love my job."
Lambert teamed with Urban to win vocal event of the year for their "We Were Us" collaboration for which Urban won trophies as producer and performer. Urban won video of the year with Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift for "Highway Don't Care." The three wins Sunday night gave Lambert 18 trophies at the ACM Awards since she first won best new female artist in 2006.
She followed up her single record of the year win with a performance of her song "Automatic."
Musgraves won album of the year for "Same Trailer Different Park" two months after taking the Grammy for country album of the year. Lee Brice's song "I Drive Your Truck" won song of the year and Justin Moore won new artist of the year. It's one of two fan-voted awards along with top honor entertainer of the year.
The Band Perry won vocal group of the year and Jason Aldean a target of his good friend Bryan and Shelton won his second straight male vocalist of the year award.
"This is really unexpected," a black-hatted Aldean told the crowd. "It was a shock last year to win it and even a bigger shock this year, I think. ... It's been one hell of a ride, so I hope it doesn't end any time soon."
O Catch the excitement of the American Country Music Awards with photos and a list of winners at sltrib.com
Entertainer of the year: George Strait
Album of the year: Kacey Musgraves, "Same Trailer Different Park"
Female vocalist of the year: Miranda Lambert
Male vocalist of the year: Jason Aldean
Vocal group of the year: The Band Perry
Song of the year: "I Drive Your Truck": Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary
Single record of the year: Miranda Lambert, "Mama's Broken Heart"
New artist of the year: Justin Moore
Vocal duo of the year: Florida Georgia Line
Music video of the year: Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, "Highway Don't Care"
Vocal event of the year: Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, "We Were Us"