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> Carrie Underwood takes a Carnival Ride, great article with some new insight
post Oct 22nd 2007, 8:52 AM
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Carrie Underwood takes a 'Carnival Ride'
Country singer pushes past new-kid status with sophomore album


Carrie Underwood found the name of her second album, Carnival Ride, within a line in "Wheel of the World," the last song on the album: "God put us here on this carnival ride/We close our eyes never knowing/Where it'll take us next."

It's no surprise that those words spoke to her. Underwood, 24, was catapulted from the safe life of a shy Oklahoma college student into the unknown world of an award-winning country superstar in less than two years.

Six months after winning American Idol in May 2005, she released her debut album, Some Hearts. It sold 6 million copies, making it the best-selling female country album of the past three years. All five singles hit No. 1, including "Jesus, Take the Wheel," "Before He Cheats" and "Wasted." The reigning Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music female vocalist has won two Grammys and several other industry awards. On Tuesday, she releases Carnival Ride, for which she co-wrote four songs, and she's up for three awards at the Nov. 7 CMA awards show.

"It was a great fluke to me," she says of her debut's success. "We got really lucky and a lot of people did their jobs really well and worked really hard. I don't think I can still process it, quite. I think I'll process it when other stuff doesn't do as well," she says with a laugh, "and then it will hit me, 'Wow, that was really cool.' "

Singer keeps her cool

After changing from a short black dress and heels into a sweatshirt and leggings, Underwood sits on a black sofa in a Grand Ole Opry House dressing room and nibbles on a granola bar. As her mother, sister and grandfather watched, Underwood sang four songs on the Tuesday-night show, including "How Great Thou Art." The song's notes were so high that it was painful to sing, so she found herself unexpectedly moved to tears by the audience's overwhelming response.

This was a rare moment when her emotions got the best of her. Like her father, Underwood remains on even keel, staying steady whether she's receiving news that excites or disappoints. For instance, when she was text-messaged by her manager that she received two American Music Awards nominations, her only response was, "Cool. Who else is nominated?"

"I am not great with emotion sometimes," she says. "That might perturb people occasionally or they might get the wrong idea because I don't act as excited as I should. I'm a thinker. Even when I get good news, I'm like, 'All right, what does this mean?'

"I just don't wear them on the outside. I'm excited on the inside. Every once in awhile my emotion escapes me, and when it does, it's weird to me."

Her quick rise hasn't been easy

Despite her unchanging demeanor and impressive stats, it hasn't all been one steady ride to the top.

Thrust into the unfamiliar country music industry, where she's faced resentment and jealousy, she was often terrified as she tackled high-profile endeavors such as singing at the 2005 Country Music Association awards show in front of some who doubted her place on that stage.

"There were no thoughts running through my head; my heart was pounding. I had two minutes to convince everybody sitting in those seats that I am supposed to be here, so there was a lot of pressure."

Says her label chief, Sony BMG Nashville chairman Joe Galante, "She stepped up to the plate, knocked it out of the park and made us all proud."

She hit the road to open for Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley and headlined her own shows. "It's great being onstage, but I think a few people would forget occasionally that I had one album out and that I am just now being not new at this now. I am just now becoming not the new kid on the block anymore."

When she was able to escape from the pressures and return home to Checotah, Okla., she discovered that her old life had changed, as well. Most of her family and friends treated her differently, and suddenly speculation about her love life much of it wrong surfaced in tabloids.

"It was just really weird . . . 'Wow, I don't think I can be friends with this person anymore because they go and tell everything I say to them,' or they post private pictures of us hanging out on the Internet not anything bad, but to get attention," she says. "They talk about me like they know me really well. I realized it when I started having to cut people out of my life."

Paisley says Underwood has handled fame better than anyone else he's seen who has ascended so fast. "She seems to have weathered the storm and slipped comfortably from relatively unknown to superstar. This is someone who has her head on straight, a healthy outlook on music and life, and everything going for her the sky's the limit."

Some resent her success

But not everyone has been as happy with Underwood's success. Soon after her album's release, rumors began circulating on Music Row that a standoffish Underwood had refused to speak to others backstage at industry events.

"If anybody came up and talked to me and I'm not even saying a lot of people did I was as nice as I knew how to be. You know, I was in a different world; I didn't know what I was doing there.

"I'm better at it now, but I was the new kid and nobody knew anything about me, so I would say everybody was kind of being standoffish towards me.

"I've been in dressing rooms where I've known people were sitting 8 feet from me, talking about me when I was sitting right there," she says, adding that others such as Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Wynonna Judd and Keith Anderson have been extremely supportive.

That resentment became apparent to Underwood after the 2006 CMA awards, where Faith Hill joked on-camera after Underwood's female vocalist win by saying, "What?" and raising her hands.

Hill's gesture made people take sides, Underwood says. "It was a stupid fluke; she let her guard down for five seconds. There were no sides, but then you realized people were saying she had the right to be angry."

LeAnn Rimes wrote on her Web site that Underwood hadn't paid her dues long enough to fully deserve that award.

"She had megasuccess early on, and you know she wasn't a 12-year-old playing in bars," Underwood says. "I didn't really think that much of it coming from her. If it had been somebody who had spent 20 years working to get this and then they got it, that would be a little different.

"I mean no disrespect to anybody in the industry, but everybody in the music industry knows that if they had the chances that I had that they would take them in a heartbeat. If anybody acts like they wouldn't, they are lying," she says with a laugh.

"And nobody knows what I went through in Idol, nobody. There were 10 of us on the show that understand what we went through. It was the hardest thing, the most nerve-wracking, scariest thing that I've ever gone through in my entire life. I don't know anything that will ever be more monumental than that."

She's found her place

Wynonna Judd says Underwood is the future of country music.

"What I admire about Carrie is that she has held her head up through the storm and through all the opinions and judgments based on whether she belongs in Nashville or not because of her American Idol upbringing," Judd says. "The fact is, she has a place here. She is part of our community and she has a right to be here and she has earned her spot.

"She's come from a very fast-paced presentation, American Idol, and people feel she's won the lottery and hasn't earned it. That disappoints and burdens me, because how dare we judge and question God's timing? It's arrogant and it's just because we're entitled."

Galante, who predicts Underwood's new album will go multiplatinum in a market declining 30 percent in sales, says he shudders to think about country's market share without Underwood's 6 million in sales.

"The breakthrough moment for all of the people doubting her was when she got up at the Grammys and said, 'I'm a country artist and I love country music,' " Galante says. "It took everybody that long, which was a full year later, for people to go, 'Oh, she is one of us.' "

Does she feel fully accepted now?

"I am accepted as I need to be," she says. "I feel good. Country radio has been good to me and a lot of people have been great to me. It's like any other job or thing you do; there are going to be people at the office who are great to you and there are going to be people who aren't so great to you and cause drama."

Now secure with her place in the industry, she has no interest in convincing anyone that she belongs.

"If somebody likes me or likes the way I sing or the way I am onstage, awesome," she says. "I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. I've realized that people who don't like you for any reason are never going to like you, most likely. You can't win most people over.

"I remember being in high school and someone saying, 'My favorite singer is blah blah.' I would be like, 'Ugh, you like that person? I hate them.' Somebody is saying that about me. That's just the way it is."

-----"The Man, The Band, The Plan To Make An "Idol" Act America's Next Top Rock Group"-----Billboard Mag
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