Everyone knows Carrie Underwood, the winner of the fourth season of “American Idol.” But there are some things about her you don’t know. Even though she grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, she has never milked a cow in her life. Her favorite television series of all time is “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” And as a child, she used to pick four-leaf clovers and wish that she would be a famous singer one day.
Her wish was granted, thanks to the millions of viewers who voted for her on the popular TV series. Now signed to 19 Recordings/Arista Records, Carrie’s first release is the smash hit “Inside Your Heaven”, which debuted as the best selling song in the nation with sales of 170,000. The single tops Billboard’s Hot 100, Pop 100, the Singles Sales chart and the Country Singles chart and Underwood also breaks Billboard chart history as the first country music artist ever to debut at #1 on the Hot 100. Underwood’s “Inside Your Heaven” also becomes the first song from a country artist to go to #1 on the Hot 100 since Lonestar’s “Amazed” did so in 2000.
Carrie has been very busy since the late May win, publicizing her smash hit single and also meeting with producers in Nashville to develop a recording plan for her first country album, due out this fall. On July 12 the “American Idol” concert tour launches and will play 40+ dates through September.
Carrie was born March 10, 1983. Her family already owned the farm in Checotah, Oklahoma, though Carrie was born in the next town over, the one made famous in a Merle Haggard song, Muskogee. Carrie’s father Stephen worked at a paper mill and her mother Carole was an elementary school teacher. Carrie is the youngest of three sisters. Shanna is 13 years older and Stephanie is 10 years older. Carrie was just four years old when Shanna moved out on her own, but says that her siblings have always been there for her.
Music didn’t run in the family, but Carrie started singing at church when she was three years old. Once she was in school, she sang solo roles in student plays, especially at Christmas. “There was never a day where I woke up and said, ‘I can sing!’, it was just a natural thing for me.” says Carrie.
By seventh grade, people were taking more notice of her voice and she entered local talent shows. She was told she had a “big voice” for “such a little girl.”
Her taste in music was varied, thanks to her parents and sisters. “My mom and dad loved oldies. I remember thinking I was going to get mom to stop listening to that music if it was the last thing I did. But now I really appreciate it. I grew up listening to the Four Seasons and the Bee Gees, John Denver and the Beatles. I learned to love the music of the ’80s through my sisters. And growing up in Oklahoma, it was hard not to know country music really well. I started listening to it in the car and then my mom and dad picked up on it.”
She was involved in her high school music program, but she kept wishing on those four-leaf clovers and told people she was going to become a famous singer. Then she enrolled at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and became more serious about her career choice. “I knew I could hold a tune but I figured it was time to grow up.” Carrie chose broadcast journalism for her major and produced a student-run television program, and wrote for the school paper, The Northeastern.
Music wasn’t completely out of the picture. She had a role in a country music show at college, where she learned about country legends like Patsy Cline and the Carter Family. She entered the Miss NSU Scholarship Pageant two years in a row, placing in the top three both times. “But I’m not a pageant girl,” she confesses. “My platform was about animals and it didn’t seem to conform to their ideas. I wasn’t going to change it because it’s what I’m passionate about. Ever since I was little I’ve loved animals. They depend on people to take care of them. If you told me I could never sing again, I’d say that was horrible, but it’s not my life. If you told me I could never be around animals again, I would just die.”
Carrie was still taking her college classes when friends encouraged her to audition for “American Idol.” At first, she didn’t want to audition in case she didn’t make it, “I thought I’d have to give up my dream of singing, and I didn’t want to do that.” Then she realized if she didn’t audition, she would graduate, get a job and may never have a chance to try out for the show again. So one night after wrapping an appearance in the college country music show at 10 p.m., she piled into the car with her mom, a friend and her mother and drove all night, arriving in St. Louis at six in the morning. They had to be at the stadium by 8 a.m. to receive wristbands to be eligible for the auditions. Then Carrie waited eight hours before singing Martina McBride’s “Phones Are Ringing All Over Town” for “American Idol” supervising producer James Breen. “I was so tired, I didn’t care what happened,” Carrie says with a laugh. “While I was singing I was thinking I’m not doing a very good job and I might as well go home. I drove eight hours for nothing.” But she was invited to come back the next day and sing for executive producer Nigel Lythgoe.
Carrie sang another McBride song for Lythgoe, “Independence Day.” Nigel told her, “See that lady over there? She’s got a big stack of papers that say you’re going on to the next round. You better go get one!” But then he added, “You know that Simon (Cowell) hates country music, right?” “Yes,” Carrie replied. “Good luck!” Nigel exclaimed.
Carrie sang Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” for the judges. Randy said good job and Simon surprised her when he said, “I was wondering if we’d get a good country singer out of this.”
The judges sent Carrie to Hollywood, which meant she had to board an airplane for the first time in her life. She made it into the top 24 and then the top 12. As the weeks went by, the other contestants were voted off the show one by one, until the finale May 25 when it was Carrie Underwood vs. Bo Bice. When Ryan Seacrest announced the winner, the country had a new American Idol: the 22-year-old blonde from Oklahoma who loves animals and who can really sing, and who is already a formidable presence on the record charts.