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Carrie Underwood: American Country Idol

What exactly is an American Idol? When Carrie Underwood was a contestant on the ridiculously popular talent search TV show in 2005, she defined American Idol as follows: “Someone who is nice, talented and deserves it.”  If this is the definition, then the judges made the right decision when they awarded the title to Carrie Underwood herself.

For starters, Carrie Underwood is nice. (Can a girl who grew up in Oklahoma NOT be nice?) Carrie Underwood has always been nice. She was born March 10, 1983, in Checotah, Oklahoma to a paper mill worker and an elementary school teacher. Carrie Underwood and her two older sisters, Shanna and Stephanie, grew up on a cattle ranch.

Before we go any further with the story of this nice young songstress, we urge you to put those cowgirl stereotypes out of your head. As Carrie Underwood herself explains: "People have so many stereotypes of people from where I come from. If you say you're from Oklahoma, it'll be like, 'Oh, so you milk cows, feed chickens, ride bulls, all that stuff, right?' And it's like, 'No. We don't ride around in covered wagons, either.'"

No, Carrie Underwood didn’t have time to milk cows or ride bulls. She’s been busy singing since she was 3 years old, the age when she joined her church choir. By the time she was 13 years old, she had already decided on a singing career. She made her first studio recording and performed at several festivals in several states. But the singing career would have to wait a few more years.

In the meantime, Carrie Underwood lived your typical nice, all-American girl existence. She played softball and continued to grace the church choir with her voice. She was a member of the National Honor Society and spent a summer as a page for Oklahoma State Representative Bobby Frame.  She was an honor roll student throughout high school, eventually graduating Checotah High School in 2001 as salutatorian.  A salutatorian, for those of you whose high schools didn’t present this honor, is the student with the second-highest GPA in school, along with an impressive record of community involvement—in other words, the runner-up to the prestigious valedictorian. Like we said, Carrie Underwood has always been nice.

Smart, according to Carrie Underwood’s definition, is not a requirement for the title of American Idol. However, smart is definitely a word we can use to describe Carrie Underwood. After her victorious completion of Checotah High School, Carrie Underwood packed her bags for Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a town with a population of just under 15,000, most famous for being the county seat of Cherokee County. Here, Carrie Underwood studied mass communications with an emphasis on journalism. She graduated magna cum laude in 2006… in other words, she studied around American Idol and still graduated with honors. Like we said, Carrie Underwood is smart.

Carrie Underwood is also a great multi-tasker. Again, this characteristic is not part of Carrie Underwood’s definition of an American Idol, but again, this is a trait Carrie Underwood demonstrated long before her singing career took off. During her university years, Carrie Underwood was also actively involved in the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, and maintained her close ties with the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma. In the summers, between classes, Carrie Underwood was a performer at Notrheastern’s Downtown Country Show. And, as if this girl wasn’t busy enough, she also had time to compete in several beauty pageants, finally earning the prestigious runner-up at the Miss NSU pageant in 2004.

By now, you’re probably wondering what the judges at those other pageants, the several where Carrie Underwood didn’t even place, were thinking. But don’t worry—recognition was in the stars for Carrie Underwood. 2004 was the year that Carrie Underwood decided to head out to St Louis for the American Idol competition.

Which brings us to point number two in the Carrie Underwood definition of an American Idol. An American Idol is talented. And talented is certainly a word that most of the word’s population would unanimously agree describes Carrie Underwood. It is even a word that would be used by the notorious Simon Cowell.

For those of you who are not avid American Idol watchers, it may be necessary to give you a little background on Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell is the American Idol judge who viewers love to hate, because he’s just so darn mean. Seemingly oblivious to the courage it takes these young hopefuls to perform on American Idol, Simon Cowell has crushed dream after dream on national TV. Performers dreaded hearing the now-infamous words, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” followed by a scathing reaction to their performance that could best be described as rude. And cruel.

However, upon hearing Carrie Underwood’s performance of Heart’s “Alone,” callous Cowell had only this to say: "You're not just the girl to beat, you're the person to beat. I will make a prediction: Not only will you win this competition, but you will sell more records than any other previous Idol winner!"

Perhaps callous Cowell was on to something. Carrie Underwood DID win the American Idol competition in May 2005. She beat out slick Alabaman Bo Bice for the title. As for the selling more records than any previous Idol winner, well, that’s yet to be seen: Season One winner, Kelly Clarkson, is a pretty tough act to follow. However, there  are indications that Carrie Underwood may be on her way to doing just that. Let’s turn to the specifics of Carrie Underwood’s post-American Idol career:

Just after being crowned the fourth American Idol winner in May 2005, Carrie Underwood released a new single, “Inside Your Heaven,” which skyrocketed straight to Number One. This single introduced the world, even those of the non-American Idol variety, to her strong voice and beautiful blonde features. In addition to its successful sales, Inside Your Heaven inspired a slew of male fans and men’s websites to start beckoning Carrie Underwood into THEIR Heavens. 

November 15, 2005 saw the release of Carrie Underwood’s debut album, Some Hearts. It was a country album, and demonstrated how Carrie Underwood was planning to stay true to her Oklahoma roots. This album was a success within its first week on the market. Some Hearts sold a whopping 315,000 copies in its first week, placing it at the number one position on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. In fact, Some Heart’s sales in that first week were so successful that the album is considered the biggest debut of any country artist since the 1991 debut of the Nielsen SoundScan system, which tracks record sales for the Billboard charts. We’re not just talking about a lucky first week here, either. Since that first week, Some Hearts has gone on to be certified Platinum six times over!

The album’s second single was the mega-popular Jesus, Take the Wheel, also a record-setter. (How many country songs can YOU name that debuted at number thirty-nine on the Billboard Country Chart in its first week?)  This song, and its successor, Don’t Forget to Remember Me, both hit number one on various Christian radio countdowns. Jesus, take the Wheel was also given the title of best country single of the year by the Gospel Music Association.

Mainstream music associations love Carrie Underwood, too. Not even a full two weeks after releasing Some Hearts, Carrie Underwood was declared Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards—beating out the equally chart-topping and heart-stopping Pussycat Dolls. Two weeks after that, she cleaned up at the 2006 Billboard Music Awards, taking home Album of the Year, Top 200 Female Artist of the Year, Female Country Artist, New Country Artist, and Country Album of the Year.

Recently, Carrie Underwood swept the Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tennesee, taking home awards such as Video of the Year, Female Video of the Year, and Video Director of the Year for Before He Cheats. Her latest singles, Wasted and Before He Cheats, are well on their way to successful runs on the charts as well.

On a side note, remember those beauty pageant disappointments we mentioned earlier on? Carrie Underwood is definitely making up for them now! She’s getting almost as many nods for her stunning looks as she is for her compelling music. Blender.com considers her one of the hottest women in music. Even PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has recognized Carrie Underwood’s aesthetic superiority: they’ve named her the world’s sexiest female vegetarian!

Finally, let’s finish up with criteria number three for a good American Idol: someone who is deserving. Is Carrie Underwood deserving? Her fans seem to have thought so since day one. Case in point: while on American Idol, Carrie Underwood’s performances and personality were so compelling that she gained a devout fan base who dubbed themselves “Carrie’s Care Bears.” Incidentally, Care Bears creator Linda Dehnman was also a Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority sister. Coincidence, or a testament to the caring nature of this sorority? We’ll let you decide.

Further proof that Carrie Underwood is deserving: she is still, even after all this success, nice. She recently put her second album aside to travel to South Africa to participate in American Idol’s Idol Gives Back Charity Special.

Indeed, Carrie Underwood embodies what an Idol of any kind should be. She is gracious and committed to her family and her roots. At the same time, she’s a strong, independent woman. She has described herself as this: "I'm not going to let other people do [things] for me,and I think that's a big part of where I came from. I'm not a real prissy girl." With Idols like Carrie Underwood inspiring today’s youth, the future of the world looks brighter than it has for a long time.