Celebrity Close-UpOct 01, 2012
Country mega-star Carrie Underwood is as sweet as she is sassy, giving the girl next door a whole new meaning.
Story: Jennifer Dulin Wiley
Photos: James White and Randee St. Nicholas
She churns out chart-topping hits like “Southern Butter”— all with a signature brand of sass that speaks to every girl’s wild and rebellious side. Yet, like her No. 1 hit of the same name, Carrie Underwood is a “good girl” through and through. The country girl next door has sold 15 million (and counting) albums worldwide, while claiming 15 No. 1 singles (seven of which she co-wrote) and five Grammys—and it all started in St. Louis, when Underwood auditioned for the 2005 season of “American Idol.”
Talking to Underwood now—and scanning her long list of glowing accolades—you’d never guess that she still identifies herself as that shy small town Oklahoma girl who tried out for the music reality show seven years ago. She’s more likely to talk about her husband (pro hockey player Mike Fisher), her family (who still lives in Checotah, OK) and the foundation she created to shelter neglected and abused animals than her six American Music Awards, half a dozen People’s Choice Awards, eight CMT Music Awards, nine American Country Awards and seven BMI Songwriter Awards, which include multiple Top Female Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year titles. Having co-written eight of the 14 songs on her latest album, it’s a safe bet that her tour of the same name, which stops in St. Louis on Nov. 20, will keep fans on their feet. Needless to say, we were “Blown Away.”
ALIVE: St. Louis is the place where it all began when you auditioned for “American Idol” in 2005. Would you say you have a special connection to the city?
Carrie Underwood: That was the place where my life changed forever. I will always have special memories and a very special connection to St. Louis.
ALIVE: Were you always drawn to the stage? Who were your early musical influences?
CU: I was always a bit of a “ham” when I was growing up. My family always thought it was funny and cute to make me sing in public places. I also grew up singing in church and in the choir at school. I just wanted to sing—anywhere, anytime. I was so fortunate to grow up with so many musical influences that came from towns near me. Garth Brooks, Reba, Toby Keith and Bryan White were just a few of the artists that I grew up idolizing who came from places just like where I was born. I saw such big success come from such humble beginnings, and started to think it was possible for me to do something great, too.
ALIVE: How much have your farm girl roots influenced the music you create?
CU: I grew up listening to so much country music. It was great music that certainly fit the lifestyle that I lived. My upbringing has definitely influenced my music, and I’m so grateful that I have such a wonderful background to sing about.
ALIVE: You’re known for the often wild and rebellious nature of your songs. Are any based, even loosely, on you or your life experiences?
CU: I do think that in every song I write or sing there are certain people that I have in mind for the characters in the songs. Even if they are loosely based on people I know, it still helps to make the songs more relatable when I have someone in mind. I like a good sassy song. I’m actually not a really big in-your-face kind of a person, but it’s fun to explore that side of my personality.
ALIVE: You’ve described the songs on your latest album, “Blown Away”—which topped the Billboard country chart for five straight weeks—as having a “darker storyline.” What’s the inspiration behind this album?
CU: I just wanted to let the album make itself, basically. For me, it was about writing without limitations on sound or story line. I feel like that led me to stretch as an artist and as a writer. It was a lot of fun writing and finding these songs that had more drama in them.
I like a good sassy song. I'm actually not a really big in-your-face kind of person, but it's fun to explore that side of my personality.
ALIVE: One of the songs on the album is titled “Thank God for Hometowns.” Are you able to make it back to your hometown often?
CU: My parents still live in Checotah, OK. I don’t get home as much as I would like, but I do get to go back to see them. When I’m there, all I really want to do is spend time with them. My foundation built an animal shelter there that my mom helps operate. I like to go and play with the dogs and see the progress that our volunteers are making in finding those sweet dogs new homes.
ALIVE: You and your husband, pro hockey player Mike Fisher, recently celebrated your two- year anniversary. How do you balance your busy schedules with married life?
CU: We love being together, but we are also fine with the whole long-distance thing. We’re both pretty independent, so it doesn’t bother us to not see each other all day every day. It’s nice to miss him a little bit! We iChat and talk on the phone a lot and travel to each other whenever we can.
ALIVE: What can fans expect from your current tour, which stops in St. Louis on Nov. 20?
CU: We work really hard to put on a great show! There is a lot of planning and creative thinking that goes into making a show exciting from start to finish. We also put in a lot of hours to make sure that every note is played and sung as perfectly as possible. I just want people to show up and have a great time. This tour is my biggest yet, and we are very proud of it!
ALIVE: You’re known for your explosive performances on stage. How do you manage to “bring it” every time?
CU: It’s fun to be on stage. I know it’s my job, but it doesn’t feel like work! That’s where I feel the most comfortable.
ALIVE: The country music community seems to be very tight-knit. Do you see or talk to your fellow musicians often?
CU: We all get together several times a year for various awards shows, but other than that, it can be a little hard to keep up with friends in the music business. We are all so busy. There are several artists that I try to get together with when we’re in town at the same time, but that can be a real challenge with our schedules!
ALIVE: You’ve topped anyone and everyone’s “best-dressed” list. Do you have a go-to designer?
CU: I rarely even look at designers when I’m trying on dresses for events. Once I’ve decided what I’m going to wear, then I see who made the gown. I just wear what I feel confident in. I try not to think too much about what people will say in the magazines and on the red carpet critique shows. I just want to feel good about myself.
ALIVE: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
CU: I’m actually really shy. I have a hard time being in busy public places. I never feel like I say or do the right things, which can be awkward!
ALIVE: You’re on your 15th No. 1 hit, and counting. What do you hope to accomplish next?
CU: I’m not sure what’s next on my list. I guess I just hope to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m always looking for new opportunities as they happen, but I’m up for wherever the good Lord wants to take me.
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