Originally published in the May 5, 2014 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
THINK ABOUT THIS: A scant 10 years ago, America hadn’t really heard of Carrie Underwood. She’d been a singer all along, of course, but she hadn’t pulled up stakes to shake hands and take meetings in Nashville in hopes of being discovered like so many do. Instead, it was the populist and then-still-fresh American Idol stage that catapulted her right over the music industry walls into our homes and hearts at the conclusion of the fourth season. An early favorite from the televised auditions, Carrie cleared the way for her coronation when she tore into Heart’s power ballad “Alone,” causing the surly Simon Cowell to predict she would not only win the competition, but also outsell all the other Idol champs. So far she’s proved him right. In the following pages, we examine the many facets of Carrie Underwood the superstar, what she’s accomplished in the 10 years since her audition and why we still love the fresh-faced beauty from Checotah, Okla., so doggone much.
—THE COUNTRY WEEKLY EDITORIAL STAFF
As the winner of the fourth season of American Idol in 2005, Carrie’s soaring, deceptively powerful voice helped her sweep the competition and bring her to national attention. Since then, she’s become a multi-platinum artist, with her debut album, Some Hearts, released in 2005, achieving a major milestone. Backed by the megahits “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats,” both No. 1 singles, Some Hearts became the top-selling debut record by a solo female country artist in history. Future albums Carnival Ride and Play On sold 3 million and 2 million copies, respectively, impressive figures in a genre dominated by men.
The Country Music Association recognized her vocal prowess by honoring Carrie with three straight Female Vocalist of the Year awards from 2006 to 2008. Carrie is also the only female solo star in the history of the Academy of Country Music Awards to win consecutive Entertainer of the Year honors.
Armed with a degree in mass communications and journalism from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, Carrie took a natural interest in writing and creative expression. On her second album, Carnival Ride, released in 2007, Carrie started becoming more involved in the songwriting process, hooking up with some of Music Row’s finest tunesmiths, including Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey and Ashley Gorley. Carrie earned co-writing credits on the hits “So Small,” “All-American Girl” and “Last Name.”
Carnival Ride’s follow-up, Play On, showcased a more versatile songwriting side of Carrie. Her co-writes for that album ranged from the tender “Mama’s Song” to the highly aggressive, almost vengeful “Undo It.” Carrie contributed even more original material to her latest album, Blown Away, including the No. 1 single “Good Girl,” along with chart hits “Two Black Cadillacs” and “See You Again.” At the No. 1 party celebrating “Good Girl,” Carrie told reporters that she was more confident in her writing ability. “I definitely feel more comfortable in my role as a writer,” she said. “And [I’m] lucky enough to write with some amazing people.”
She’s just a simple farm girl from Oklahoma, but she’s come a long way. When we first met Carrie, she was cute as a bug in the sweet pink T-shirt and beachy blond curls she wore to audition for American Idol. Now Carrie is the picture of sophistication and class—one of the most fashionable artists in country music. Many of her breathtaking formal pieces linger in our memories, like the rich garnet Rafael Cennamo gown with the theatrical train she wore for her 2009 ACM Awards performance of “I Told You So” or the high-tech Theia original that serves as a video projection screen during her live show. And let’s not forget the froth of white ruffles she wore on her wedding day that was created specifically for her by dress designer Monique Lhullier. But even when Carrie is dashing through the airport to catch a flight, her classic taste and wholesome, pulled-together look make her stylish, whether in jeans and a jacket or sweats and sneakers.
When you get to a certain level of fame (think having a crossover hit playing on every country and Top 40 station in America at the same time), it’s only a matter of time before manufacturers want to start aligning their brand with yours. Such is the case with Carrie, who over the years has had partnerships with Skechers shoes, Nintendo, Vitamin Water and Pedigree. Cosmetics companies also began to seize on Carrie’s effortless natural beauty. In 2011, she served as Olay skin care’s first celebrity brand ambassador, appearing in numerous ads for the company’s facial wash. More recently, Carrie inked an agreement with Nicole by OPI to create her own line of nail polish, resulting in 14 bold new shades reflective of her vibrant spirit. Shortly after her nail polish deal, Carrie scored another coup by partnering with Almay as the makeup giant’s global brand ambassador and appearing in a series of multimedia ads. These folks all get it: Carrie Underwood is money, and her face means loyal customers.
She started small—simply performing in her own music videos, then playing the role of a scorned woman in the 2006 video for “Before He Cheats.” As Carrie grew more comfortable in front of the camera, she stretched out, and in the 2008 video for “All American Girl” we began to see a new side of this already accomplished singer. Just a couple of years later, she landed a small part in the hit CBS series How I Met Your Mother, where she played “Tiffany,” a medical sales rep and a bit of a departure from her normal life. But she obviously impressed the television and film industry gatekeepers because the next year she made her big-screen debut in the inspirational film Soul Surfer. Carrie played youth leader Sarah Hill in the movie about young surfer Bethany Hamilton, who was attacked by a shark. The part was another small step in establishing Carrie as an actress, but she took a giant leap forward in late 2013 when she played the pivotal role of Maria von Trapp in a three-hour live broadcast of The Sound of Music.
The Animal Lover
Much ink has been spilled over the years about Carrie’s diet, which has morphed from vegetarian to the no dairy/no eggs vegan approach. More than just a health-conscious choice or rebellious pose, Carrie’s veganism speaks to an abiding love she has for all animals. She’s been named PETA’s sexiest vegetarian a couple of times, and partnered with The Humane Society and Do Something for public service announcements around pets. Carrie butted up against Tennessee politics in 2013, speaking out on Twitter when the so-called “Ag Gag bill”—which would have prevented animal rights activists from collecting extensive information on animal abusers—went before the state legislature. In her efforts to look after her hometown of Checotah, Okla., Carrie also founded the C.A.T.S. (Checotah Animal, Town & School) Foundation to aid music education in local schools and help fund the Happy Paws Animal Shelter. Of course, this all comes right back home for Carrie: She’s a proud, loving parent to her pups Ace and Penny.
The Hockey Wife
Watching Carrie’s relationship with NHL guard Mike Fisher blossom was as captivating a fairy tale as to ever hit Music City. Their courtship, engagement and subsequent wedding was impossibly sweet, but it’s the marriage that has warmed our hearts the most. Mike left his Canadian home, where he played for the Ottawa Senators, jumping at the chance to sign on with the Nashville Predators after the nuptials and set up house in Music City with his new bride. It sure looks very happily-ever-after. Offstage, away from the studio and the bright lights of showbiz, Carrie is content to be Mrs. Fisher, attending her hunky husband’s hockey games and excitedly cheering on the team with the other players’ wives when her busy schedule allows. Together Carrie and Mike have shot video and photos supporting such philanthropic efforts as the anti-bullying campaign “Do It for Daron” and the “End It Movement” to stop human trafficking. And come on—their Twitter selfies taken in the cab of their tractor or with their pups are pure, 100 percent adorable. CW