But on the day that issue hit the streets, Lambert's embrace by the country mainstream became complete. Lambert landed nine nominations for this year's Country Music Association Awards, the most ever for a female artist.
The nominations were announced Wednesday morning, with Lambert in New York on Good Morning America. The next night she was in Southaven, Mississippi, for her first concert since the announcement.
"I've got a lot of things to celebrate tonight. Some things that are definitely a drinking matter," Lambert told what appeared to be a near-capacity crowd.
But if Lambert was in the mood to celebrate her new stature, she wasn't in the mood to compromise what got her there. After a mix of piped-in warm-up music that culminated, improbably, with Elvis Costello's "Radio, Radio," Lambert bounded onto the stage to the sound of Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now" and announced, "Y'all ready for some rock and roll?" With that, she and her five-piece, all-Texas-bred band launched into her firecracker breakthrough single, "Kerosene," which borrows from a different Earle song ("I Feel Alright") while conflating break-up saga and class-rage anthem. "Forget your high society/I'm soaking it in kerosene," Lambert sang. "Light ’em up and watch them burn/Teach them what they need to learn."
Lambert and band retained this rock vibe through a 20-song, hour-and-a-half set, with non-album covers of the Faces' "Stay With Me" (and inspired choice) and CCR's "Travelin' Band" and Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" (not so much, but she had fun with them).
But the highlights were all Lambert's own — "Famous in a Small Town," "Only Prettier," "White Liar," "Dry Town" — in a set that revealed the depth of Lambert's three-album, 38-song discography in the terrific songs that didn't show up. (Most missed: "What About Georgia" and "Me and Your Cigarettes".)
Lambert addressed the crowd the longest in the lead-in to "Heart Like Mine," an autobiographical portrait that blooms into a statement of faith in which Lambert imagines and that she and Jesus would make good drinking buddies.
Lambert referenced first playing Texas bars at age 17 and the hard partying along the way that she doesn't regret, flashed a tattoo her daddy disapproves of and an engagement ring she recently received from country-star fiancé Blake Shelton, before finally saying that she still prays to Jesus. "I know he won't judge us tonight, Mississippi," she promised before launching into "Heart Like Mine," a song where she claims to get stronger after her second drink. (And, let the record show that on this night in Southaven, Mississippi, Blake Shelton got a bigger ovation than Jesus.)
A little later, Lambert sat down at the front of the stage to sing the startling but subtle break-up song "More Like Her," which she's somehow turned into what might be the most emotionally complex sing-along power-ballad ever.
After ending like she started — loud, fast, defiant — with "Gunpowder & Lead," Lambert came out for a short, simple, acoustic encore. Pledging her fidelity to country music despite her rock-and-roll bent, and closing Patsy Cline's "Crazy." It was a bit anticlimactic, but also sweet. And by that point, on a night that amounted to something like a coronation after-party, Lambert had given the crowd more than enough.