Miranda Lambert performed her first headlining gig at American Airlines Center last month. 

Miranda Lambert performed her first headlining gig at American Airlines Center last month. 

Gregory Castillo/Staff Photographer

Miranda Lambert knew she wouldn't make it through her concert last month at Dallas' American Airlines Center without shedding a tear or two. 

 It was the 31-year-old superstar's first headlining gig at the arena, just 80 miles from her hometown of Lindale. She had about 60 friends, family members and longtime supporters watching her in the audience. 

 "These are people who've been following me since I was little, so of course everyone was teary-eyed the whole time," Lambert told us by phone before sound check for a recent show in New Jersey. "I had kept telling people that when I got to that line in 'Automatic' about going to Dallas to buy a dress that I would start crying." 

 And of course, that was the exact moment she lost it. But when she moved the microphone away from her face, thousands of fans at AAC helped her by singing the remaining lyrics. 

 "Yeah, thank God it was on one of my bigger songs, because they knew all the words," she said. 

Lambert's Dallas triumph was the latest in a long series of pinch-me moments for the singer. Just before that show, she'd landed eight nominations -- the highest of any act this year -- for the Academy of Country Music awards. She's competing for both female vocalist of the year and entertainer of the year at Sunday's show, which will be co-hosted at Arlington's AT&T Stadium by her husband, Blake Shelton. 

"I feel like I'm waving the flag for all us girls in country."

 North Texas happens to be halfway between Lambert's Texas home and the Tishomingo, Okla., spot where she and Shelton now live (when they're not on TV or on the road). Lambert says Dallas was the big-city destination for her family throughout childhood. She remembers trips to Six Flags and shopping excursions, but mostly she thinks back on the concerts she attended as a young'un. 

 "I saw Garth Brooks when he played three nights at the old Texas Stadium - that was my first concert and it was amazing," she said. The surreality of being up against Brooks for this year's entertainer of the year award doesn't escape her. 

 "To go from 10 years old, seeing him on stage, to this ... it's just crazy." But it's not just her competition that excites Lambert regarding the ACMs' top prize. 

Photo gallery: Miranda Lambert through the years

 "Entertainer of the year is the one," she said. "It's the one you think about when you're 17 and dreaming. I have butterflies, especially this year since I'm the only female in the category. I feel like I'm waving the flag for all us girls in country." 

 Her characterization couldn't be more accurate. In a year when women are making the most interesting music the genre has to offer, they're nearly shut out of the top category. 

 A win for Lambert, who's already snagged a record-setting five consecutive female vocalist trophies, could work to encourage those who see her as a role model. 

 Beyond all that, Lambert would perhaps appreciate the big award the most, seeing how she was obsessed with country awards shows growing up. 

 "I would get a legal pad and write down all the nominees and circle the ones I thought would win before the show," she said. "It was a ritual in our house." 

 With her current arena tour and her experience playing with George Strait at his historic final concert last year at AT&T Stadium, Lambert is becoming a seasoned veteran when it comes to commanding the attention of thousands live. What's her advice for the up-and-comers who will share the ACM stage with her? 

 "Man, I don't think there is anything you can do to prepare," she said. "That place is electric, and its humongous." 

Follow Hunter Hauk on Twitter at @hausofhunter.

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