American Idol takes a stop off the highway in Nashville tonight (be sure to join our live blog during the episode!) in its search for the next superstar, and it is quite fitting that the next Idol champion for our Rewind spotlight is none other than country superstar Carrie Underwood. (If you missed our spotlight on season 3′s Fantasia, click here.) After storming through the competition week after week, stunning America with her solid vocal performances and growing as an entertainer, Carrie Underwood was crowned the show’s champion at the end of it’s 4th season, beating rocker Bo Bice for the title after a record number of over 500,000 million votes cast. And the story begins after a small-town Oklahoma girl left her comforts behind to travel to St. Louis to audition for a show that would forever change her life.
When Carrie Underwood stepped into the audition room with no flashy garb or gimmick, it’s very hard to say the judges and America didn’t instantly fall in love with her. Singing an almost flawless rendition of “Can’t Make You Love Me,” Carrie had to quickly learn she wasn’t in Checotah anymore. From the first night of live performances, acclaimed judge Simon Cowell announced that she would easily become one of the favorites to win this competition. Performance after performance, it came as no surprise to America that this country girl has what it takes to make it to the top. During the Top 11 finalists’ performance show, Carrie sang what was likely her breakthrough performance of the competition, shifting gears from country to rock. Tackling Heart’s “Alone,” Carrie Underwood not only stunned America and likely herself, but prompted Cowell to claim that not only will she win the competition but that she will outsell any previous American Idol winner. And boy was he right. It was later noted by a producer of the mega-hit show that Carrie dominated the voting, winning by a large margin week after week. Carrie Underwood is one of the few Idol contestants to have never reached the bottom 3 at any point in the competition, joining the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, David Archuleta, Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze.
Since her resounding victory, Carrie has not been a stranger to the Idol stage, returning multiple times to perform some of her biggest hits or to lend a hand to Idol’s charity special, Idol Gives Back. She also performed the farewell song for Season 8, Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home.” Ever since winning American Idol, Carrie has been given accolade after accolade, breaking records, making a name for herself, and most noticeably, evolving as a true entertainer in the music industry. Her debut album, Some Hearts, was released months after claiming the Idol crown. The first week of sales made her album the biggest debut of any country artist since the advent of the current tracking system in 1991. It has been certified SEVEN times platinum and is the fastest selling country album in history. Her single “Jesus Take The Wheel” was awarded the Grammy Award for Country Song of the Year. Already, Carrie was making a name for herself and wasn’t ready to stop. At the 2006 American Country Music Awards, Underwood performed “Jesus Take the Wheel” and won Best New Female Vocalist and Single of the Year.
Later that year, Underwood would eventually cross from country to the pop landscape, something she did not necessarily expect. Her single “Before He Cheats” gained massive airplay and momentum as her career continued to bloom, making it her fourth number one hit overall. Carrie didn’t stop picking up steam there. Picking up award after award from the AMA’s, CMA’s, ACM’s and everything in between, Carrie Underwood was starting to live her own American dream. In August of 2008, “Jesus Take The Wheel” was certified Platinum single, making Underwood the first country artist ever to have two songs hit Platinum status together (along with “Before He Cheats”).
Just 2 years after claiming the Idol victory, Underwood released her second album, Carnival Ride. Underwood was more involved in the songwriting process this time around compared to her debut attempt. In just under 2 months, Carnival Ride was certified Double Platinum. And one month later, Underwood would embark on her first grand scale tour, teaming with country music legend Keith Urban on their Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Carnival Ride Tour. No doubt, his stage presence helped evolve Underwood into the performer she is today. That same year, 2008, Carrie went on to win Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA’s for the second consecutive year. “Last Name,” the prequel if you will to “Before He Cheats,” became a monster of a single, taking over the charts left and right. The single later reached number one on the Hot Country Song chart, making it the third single to reach #1 from Carnival Ride, her sixth consecutive number one on the Hot Country Chart and her seventh straight country single number one, and her eighth number one single overall. This made Underwood the first female artist to have two consecutive albums each release three number-ones on this chart since Shania Twain in 1998. With the release of “Just A Dream,” Underwood became the third female artist in country music history to have released four consecutive #1 songs from the same album, joining the likes of Rosanne Cash (King’s Record Shop) and Shania Twain (The Woman In Me). Carnival Ride also earned Underwood her third consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year from the Country Music Association.
In 2009, Carrie was the only female nominated for the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year, alongside the likes of Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, and George Strait. She eventually went on to win the award, making her only the 7th female artist to earn such an honor. With that, she joined the likes of Lorretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks – an impressive list to become a part of if you ask me. 2009 also marked the year Carrie was recognized by Forbes magazine as the top earning American Idol alum, earning more than twice as much as the second place finisher with estimated earnings of $14 million from June 2008 – May 2009.
That wasn’t all Carrie had prepared for that year. She also released her third album, Play On, at year’s end. Underwood’s first week sales for a female artist were only topped by Susan Boyle. Just like Carnival Ride, Carrie took on a more proactive role with the songwriting for this album, dabbing the pen into a good majority of the album’s tracks. “Cowboy Casanova,” the album’s first single, became her fastest selling song to date and her 11th No. 1 single. In April of 2010, Carrie became the only female country artist in history to win Entertainer of the Year from the Academy of Country Music, after she nabbed the award for the second consecutive year. During the show, Underwood received the ACM “Triple Crown,” marking her wins as Top New Artist, Top Female Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year at points during her career. She is only the second female to win the crown, after Barbara Mandell. She doesn’t stop there was the recognition. With countless other awards granted in the last year alone, Underwood also achieved what no other artist has done by winning the American Music Award for “Favorite Country Album” for each of her released albums. After releasing “Temporary Home,” “Undo It,” and “Mama’s Song,” Play On is still spinning out hit after hit and doesn’t show signs of stopping.
As if this isn’t enough, Carrie has not been a stranger to the small screen post-Idol. She has co-hosted the CMA awards 3 times with Brad Paisley. She was granted her very own Christmas special, Carrie Underwood: An All Star Holiday Special, which featured the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, David Cook, Dolly Parton among others. She made her acting debut on the CBS hit comedy How I Met Your Mother, has been named the new face of Olay, performed the National Anthem at Superbowl XLIV, and appeared on a special episode of Extreme Makehowever Home Edition with LeAnn Rimes and Keith Urban assisting those affected by the Nashville floods. She also debuted a beautiful and emotionally charged medley of “Jesus Take the Wheel” and classic hymn “How Great Thou Art” at the Nashville Rising benefit concert, helping to raise more than $2 million for the city. Carrie also earned her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for “There’s A Place For Us,” which she co-wrote for The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Carrie will also make her big screen debut in 2011 in the film Soul Surfer, portraying church youth group leader Sarah Hill in the adaptation based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm after a shark bite while surfing.
Aside from the entertainment world, Underwood is also an inspiring activist. She is a supporter of the Humane Society, lent her voice for Stand Up 2 Cancer benefits, performed for the troops in Iraq, and helped form the Checotah Animal Town and School Foundation benefiting her home town. At this point in her life, it seems that Carrie Underwood has it all, yet she still remains grounded in her faith and humbled by her achievements. In July 2010, Carrie Underwood married Ottawa Senators hockey player Mike Fisher in Greensboro, Georgia, attended by the likes of Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and the Idol judges Randy, Paula, and Simon. The couple released the following statement following their wedding. “We could not feel more blessed to have found each other and to have shared this day with our friends and family that mean so much to us!” Carrie Underwood shows no signs of slowing down her growth as a musician and idol to many fans around the world. It’s no secret that this American Idol champ is America’s Country Sweetheart as she continues to amaze people by her words and actions. No doubt Carrie has and will continue to make her mark in the industry for years to come without leaving behind her small-town country roots.