Backstage after the 2023 CMA Awards, Lainey Wilson had so many trophies to carry that she had to crouch down on the floor for photographers to snap pictures of her with all of them at once.

One of those trophies was for an especially momentous victory: Wilson was awarded the night's top honor, Entertainer of the Year, at the end of the show. It was her first year being nominated in the category, and also marked the first time that a woman has won that award since Taylor Swift did so in 2011.

As the sole first-time nominee — and going up against veterans such as the two-year reigning Entertainer Luke Combs — Wilson was a bit of a dark horse to win the category. But plenty of her fans have been betting on her ever since the nominees list came out, and Wilson says she's been betting on herself, too. And in fact, she credits much of her success to her ability to manifest her dreams long before they seem in reach.

"You're gonna think I'm crazy. The truth is, I knew this. I knew this would happen," Wilson explains. "I knew that I would be here."

"I feel like sometimes you gotta pretend. You gotta put yourself in the shoes of things you're not, so you can become them," she reflects, thinking back specifically to her early days of pursuing country music, when she was living in an RV parked in West Nashville.

"I was envisioning myself being here," she adds.

Now, as the reigning Entertainer of the Year, Wilson solidifies her position at the very forefront of the country genre and a leader in the way country music will move and develop over the course of the next year. As she reflected on that new position, she fielded a question about what kind of leader she hopes to be for the format.

"First of all, I will say that I think we are in a very pivotal time right now. I'm very proud to be part of this generation of country music," Wilson notes.

"Jelly Roll, Hardy, Luke Combs, Ashley McBryde, Kelsea [Ballerini] — they all look different, sound different, have different stories," she points out. "I think that's really important for that to be a thing, because there's all kinds of people that need to hear all kinds of stories."

"If I'm leading the pack or whatever, I hope people will stay true to themselves. Stay true to their sound. Stay true to their look," she concludes.

2023 CMA Awards Red Carpet Pictures

See the best dressed from the 2023 CMA Awards red carpet, including ___ and more.

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