'Idol' Winner Poised for Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Along with releases by Kenny Chesney and Big & Rich, the most anticipated country album this fall might be Carrie Underwood's "Some Hearts."
The 22-year-old Underwood became the fourth winner of CTV's American Idol" TV series in May, and the country music industry is hoping that she'll help reverse a 10 percent slide in sales this year - that her popularity with the show's nearly 30 million viewers will translate into sales.
"Look at all the exposure she's had. You'd expect it to be a lot like Kelly Clarkson," said Bill Kennedy, vice president of sales for Capitol Records Nashville.
Clarkson, the first "American Idol" winner, has had six top 10 singles and two albums in the top 5. Her first album, "Thankful," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's album chart in 2003.
Underwood, who has a big, full voice like one of her country music heroes, Martina McBride, released a pop single in June, "Inside Your Heaven," that was chosen for her - or for whomever won for that matter - by "American Idol" producers.
The song reached No. 1 on Billboard's singles sales chart, but didn't fly on country radio.
Her new album on the Arista label is closer to what viewers heard from her on the TV show, where she performed songs by McBride, Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks and Jo Dee Messina.
She co-wrote the tune "I Ain't in Checotah Anymore," an ode to her small-town roots, and "Before He Cheats," a dark song about a woman so angry with her boyfriend that she takes a baseball bat to his four-wheel drive.
The first single, the ballad "Jesus Take the Wheel," cracked the top 25 after two weeks, and Underwood will perform it during the Country Music Association awards Tuesday, the same day as the album release.
"`Jesus Take the Wheel' and a lot of the other stuff on the album is more representative of what I want to do," she said.
Born and raised on a farm in Checotah, Okla., Underwood, the youngest of three girls, began singing in church and later in school musicals and talent shows. After high school, she all but gave up on the idea of singing professionally.
"It was kind of like a stupid dream to me," she recalled. "I thought it was never going to happen so why waste my time trying to do only that?"
She attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., where she studied journalism.
She never quit singing, though. During summers she performed, and after seeing a TV report about people sleeping outside for an "American Idol" audition in Cleveland, she and her mother drove through the night to the one in St. Louis.
"Everyone always told me I needed to try out for it, but I was too chicken," she said.
Underwood isn't shy about her shyness. She readily describes herself as quiet and says she gets nervous speaking to large groups. During the interview with The Associated Press she was reserved, answering questions but seldom volunteering more.
"A lot of people get the impression that I might not be nice," she said. "I'm just a quiet person. If I got to a party or something, I'm the one sitting on the couch watching everybody else."
Once on the show, her expectations grew. At first she just wanted to see how far she could go. Then she wanted to make the top 12 because it meant a shot at a recording contract. Then the top 10 because it would get her on the "American Idol" tour.
"After 10, it was like icing on the cake," she said. "At about four, I thought, `Hey, I've got a one in four chance of winning.'"
Since her win, she's traveled nonstop, and she's discovering that being a famous singer isn't as glamorous as she thought.
"I always envisioned that I'd get up and have someone do my hair and makeup and go out and sing that night and it would be great," she said. "But we try to pack the days as full as we can to try to maximize the time. I consider youth to be a very important asset right now.