B orn March 10, 1983, in Muskogee, OK; daughter of Stephen (a paper mill worker) and Carole (a teacher) Underwood. Education: Graduated from Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK, 2006.
W inner of American Idol singing contest, 2005; released first single, “Inside Your Heaven,” 2005; released first album, Some Hearts, 2005.
Awards: World’s sexiest vegetarian, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 2005; CMT Music Awards, female video of the year and breakthrough video of the year, for “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” CMT, 2006; album of the year and country album of the year, for Some Hearts, and new country artist of the year, female country artist of the year, and female Billboard 200 album artist of the year, Billboard, 2006; top female vocalist, album of the year for Some Hearts, and best music video for “Before He Cheats,” Academy of Country Music, 2006; Dove Award for country recorded song of the year, for “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Gospel Music Association, 2006; CMA Horizon Award and female vocalist of the year award, Country Music Association, 2006; Grammy Awards for best new artist and best female country vocal performance, Recording Academy, for “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” 2007; video of the year and female video of the year, for “Before He Cheats,” Country Music Television, 2007.
O f all the singers who have appeared on the ultra-popular television show American Idol, country singer Carrie Underwood has become the mostpopularandsuccessful.Herdebutalbum, Some Hearts, had sold six million copies by 2007, sustaining its popularity more than a year and a half after its release in late 2005. When Underwood debuted on the show, her strong voice was undercut by an awkward stage presence. But by the end of the 2005 season, she won over the judges—as well as pop and country fans nationwide—with her vocals, her disarming beauty, her innocent personality, and a musical style that fits in well on contemporary country radio.
Underwood, born in 1983 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, grew up on a farm on the edge of Checotah, Oklahoma, a small town of only 3,400 people. She started singing at her church when she was only three years old. “She always sang—always,” her mother, Car-ole, told Mike Lipton and Darla Atlas of People. “She’d be riding in the car and one of her sisters would say, ‘Mama, make her quit singing in my ear!’” As she grew up, Underwood began performing at various small-town events, then at festivals in states near Oklahoma.
The class salutatorian at her high school, Under-wood went on to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where she studied broadcast journalism. During college, she continued singing. She was also runner-up in the college’s 2003 beauty pageant and quarterback of her sorority’s touch football team. During her senior year in college she tried out for American Idol at an audition in St. Louis, Missouri. She was one of 12 finalists chosen for the show. Before that, she had never ventured very far from Oklahoma or traveled by plane.
For the first few weeks of the 2005 American Idol season, Entertainment Weekly later recounted, Un-derwood got by with “sweet country songs and homely fashion choices.” The unpretentious small-town girl was more used to blue jeans than high style. Her turning point came in the March 22 episode, when she perfomed “Alone,” a ballad by the classic-rock band Heart. She came on stage wearing a flashy jacket, with her hair done up in a frizzy 1980s style, and sang the melodramatic song with “an almost ominous power.” Soon, it became clear that the contest was coming down to her and Southern rocker Bo Bice. Just before the season finale, Nicholas Fonseca of Entertainment Weekly placed the odds on Bice. He praised Underwood’s singing, prettiness, and sweet persona, but said she had a “woeful” stage presence: “Sometimes she looks like she’s going to break out a robot dance.” However, Fonseca guessed wrong: Underwood won the contest on May 25 with her performance of “Inside Your Heaven,” a song written for the show.
Underwood celebrated her victory with a party at Skybar in Los Angeles. After a quick trip home to Oklahoma, where she picked out the new Ford Mus-tang she won from the show, she returned to Los Angeles to rehearse for a tour and record her debut album. Her first single, her version of “Inside Your Heaven,” was rushed into stores. Underwood and Bice both appeared on theAmerican Idols Live! tour that summer, which began in July in Sunrise, Florida, and included 43 dates nationwide. “This is my time to see the world,” she told People. “Home will be there when I get back.” That year, she signed endorsement deals with Hershey’s chocolate and Skechers shoes. Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment ofAnimals (PETA) named her the World’s Sexiest Vegetarian for 2005.
Some Hearts, Underwood’s first album, was released in November of 2005 and sold 300,000 copies within a week. Its first single, “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” co-written by accomplished Nashville songwriter Hillary Lindsey, spent six weeks at the top of Billboard’s country singles chart. Reviews were lukewarm.
Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly called the album slick and too serious, aimed at “young people who want to feel middle-aged,” and said even its best songs were not as good as the weakest tracks on an album by fellow country crooner LeAnn Rimes. People reviewer Chuck Arnold gave the album two and a half stars, complaining that Under-wood “oversings on overproduced ballads” but that her “southern charm shines through” on other songs.
Country radio was much more impressed with the album, playing it frequently. At first, recalled Tom Baldrica, Sony BMG Nashville’s vice president of marketing, radio programmers were divided, with some excited to play an artist with so much national publicity and others unsure they wanted to add a talent contest winner to their playlists. But “when ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’ came along, everybody in country radio heard that and said, ‘It doesn’t matter where this came from,’” Baldrica told Brian Mansfield of USA Today. Underwood promoted herself heavily during 2006, touring that summer with country star Kenny Chesney, who gave her tips on performing, and appearing in the finale of American Idol’s 2006 season.
That same year, Underwood finished her college degree and became a spokesperson for PETA. Another single, “Before He Cheats,” released late in 2006, eventually became a number-one hit. Awards poured in. She won five Billboard Music Awards in December of that year. “Jesus, Take the Wheel” won awards from the Gospel Music Association and the country video channel CMT. She also won the Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year award. Though most of the country establishment seemed to be accepting her, there were exceptions. Singer LeAnn Rimes wrote on her Web site, according to USA Today’s Mansfield, that Underwood’s CMA award was “disheartening” because she had not “paid her dues long enough to fully deserve that award.”
That fall, Underwood told People how much her life had accelerated. “Before American Idol, I was your typical college student. I was in a sorority. I’d never been to New York. When I sang, it was before about 15 people.” Because of her touring schedule, she said, she had not had much time to enjoy her new house in Nashville, and found it hard to be away from her parents for a long time. She said she kept a Bible next to her bed for spiritual comfort.
During 2007, Underwood began recording her second album, but her first album remained very popular. By January of 2007, it had spent 20 weeks at the top of the Billboard country albums chart. It was far outselling albums by other American Idol winners Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, and Taylor Hicks. Her song, “Wasted,” hit number one on the Billboard country chart after she performed it on an American Idol episode. “When country thrives, it’s because there’s a voice that speaks to young women, and Carrie is that,” CMT executive vice-president Brian Philips explained to Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt.
By 2007, Underwood was appearing in gossip columns, thanks to a new romance. She had broken up with her college boyfriend in 2005 after going to Los Angeles for American Idol, and later complained to interviewers that it was hard to meet men to date while famous, because she was often traveling and unsure whether the men who asked her out mostly wanted to get their picture in magazines. But by early 2007, she was reportedly dating British pop singer Oliver Trevena. He accompanied her to the Grammy Awards, where she won Best New Artist.
On the 2007 season finale of American Idol, Under-wood sang “I’ll Stand By You” by the Pretenders. She was also recognized for Some Hearts’ sales of more than six million copies; it was the first country album to sell that well in ten years. Industry executives predicted similar success for Underwood’s new album, Carnival Ride, which was released in October of 2007.
“Inside Your Heaven” (single), Arista, 2005.
Some Hearts, Arista, 2005.
Carnival Ride, Arista, 2007.
Cosmopolitan, May 2007, pp. 48-51.
Entertainment Weekly, May 20, 2005, p. 34; December 2, 2005, p. 81; January 26, 2007, p. 14; June 2007 (Idol Yearbook special issue), p. 70.
People, June 6, 2005, p. 60; June 13, 2005, p. 79; November 14, 2005, p. 147; December 5, 2005, p. 47; November 2006 (Country special issue), p. 38; February 26, 2007, p. 58.
USA Today, April 17, 2007, p. 1D.
“Carrie Underwood: Biography,” All Music Guide, http://wc06.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:3ifqxqwsldke~T1 (August 18, 2007).
“Carrie Underwood: Biography,” CMT.com; http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/underwood__carrie/bio.jhtml (August 19, 2007).