Country music’s most popular current female singer, Carrie Underwood, admits she can’t believe her good luck. Each day, she says, she takes a moment to realize, “Wow, this is my life.”
It’s been 3 1/2 years since Underwood stomped through “American Idol” beating the competition so soundly that acerbic judge Simon Cowell – with more than 10 weeks left in the season – declared she would win “Idol” and proceed to sell millions of albums.
Underwood, now 25, followed Cowell’s prediction and accomplished much more. Country music fans embraced her as firmly as paint sticks to the wall. The rural Oklahoma native’s debut album, “Some Hearts,” dominated radio airwaves and sold 7 million copies.
Her single, “Before He Cheats,” crossed over to the pop charts. She briefly dated Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo. And she won two Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist.
Then her career really took off.
This year, she headlined an arena tour, which stops in Madison Thursday; became the youngest current Grand Ole Opry member (with Garth Brooks inducting her, no less); broke the record business slump with nearly 3 million sales of her sophomore album “Carnival Ride”; co-hosted the Country Music Awards; and turned into wax.
The latter happened at Madame Tussauds in New York’s Times Square last month. “Standing next to myself,” she says of the wax Underwood, “it was freaky how detailed everything was.”
Her current tour features Underwood’s 9 No. 1 hits and two quite different covers: Randy Travis’ vintage relaxed ballad “I Told You So” and Guns ‘N’ Roses’ rip-it-up rocker “Paradise City.”
“I grew up listening to everything and those are two of my favorite songs,” Underwood says. “I feel lucky I can do that and nobody sits there thinking, ‘Whoa, what just happened.'”
Well, a few concertgoers may be surprised, even if she does justice to both songs. It also signals how far Underwood has tapped into a sizable young country audience, usually well-versed in rock anthems.
In a phone interview from Nashville, Underwood is polished. Almost too polished. She’s also business savvy. She acknowledges the need to be a “team player” to achieve her success and she co-wrote most tunes on “Carnival Ride” with many of Nashville’s best songwriters, a common thread among country’s biggest stars.
Underwood also didn’t emerge from under a rock with her bring-down-the-house vocals. At 13, she was teen sensation in Oklahoma, opening gigs for national country acts Diamond Rio and Earl Thomas Conley. She was set to sign with a major label when the deal fell through.
After her teens, she sang only for fun at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., where she earned a degree in mass communications.
Just before graduation, she tried out for “American Idol” in St. Louis.
She still talks to her mother on the phone daily. And although she was named “Sexiest Female Musician” by Victoria’s Secret, Underwood wants an image not far from girl-next-door.
“There’s a way to be sexy and not be trashy,” she says.
What’s next for Underwood? Acting?
“We had a lot of offers for different roles, but my schedule is full,” she says. “If something came up that sounds like fun, I would do it. Not a huge role; I probably can’t act. Maybe something little and fun.”
She also wants to grow as an artist. She lists that as her goal after a rare pause.
“It’s hard to set goals because I feel so lucky for all the stuff that’s happened so far,” she admits. “I’d feel selfish and guilty to ask for more.”