Carly PearceKane BrownCody JohnsonLainey WilsonWalker Hayes and Luke Combs were the men and women of the hour at the 2022 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony on Wednesday night: all six artists were feted for their massive year at the forefront of the country genre.

“It feels like all the hard work is finally coming to fruition,” says Lainey, a first-time honoree who had her breakout year in 2022. “I mean, it’s been 11 years in the making.”

Lainey says CMT has always shown her support, even before her mainstream stardom. Fellow newcomer Cody Johnson echoes that gratitude for being honored at the show.

“They could have picked anybody. There’s a lot more people that are more qualified … and yet here we are,” he notes. “And I’m very, very honored to be here.”

Cody also points out the diversity in the room, saying, “Nobody sounds the same, and that versatility is what I feel like country music should be.”

Dustin Lynch agrees: He was on hand to honor Kane and says he admires how his fellow star has carved out his own lane, bringing new listeners to country music. “I think Kane’s done an amazing job at straddling genre lines and having success in different worlds,” he says.

Few artists have enjoyed more momentum in 2022 than Carly, who says she never stops feeling grateful for her seat at the country table.

“It’s just, like, the biggest cherry on top,” Carly says. “You think about just wanting to matter in country music … that’s all I wanted as a kid. And tonight solidifies for me that I’ve had a year where I matter, and that’s all I ever wanted.” 

The CMT Artists of the Year ceremony will air Friday at 9 p.m. ET on CMT.

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