Only six months after winning the fourth season of "American Idol" in 2005, small-town Oklahoma girl Carrie Underwood suddenly became one of the biggest country-music artists in the world. "Idol" judge Simon Cowell predicted her massive success after she delivered a stunning performance of Heart's "Alone" on the show, and once Underwood had the chance to hit the studio, she delivered the hits. Some Hearts (Number Two, 2005), her debut album, remained on the Billboard Top 200 for more than two years — enough to help it sell more than 6 million copies. The record wound up as the best-selling female country album of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
After two more albums, Underwood had racked up ten Number One country hits — more than any other woman in the 2000s. Underwood has won three consecutive Grammys for Best Female Country vocal Performance — for "Jesus Take The Wheel" in 2007, "Before He Cheats" in 2008, and "Last Name" in 2009 — and was named Best New Artist in 2007 as well. And with total sales exceeding 11 million, she's sold more in the U.S. than any other American Idol artist — including Kelly Clarkson, with whom her music shares a certain feistiness and rock influence. But she's still plenty country — Garth Brooks inducted her into the Grand Old Opry in 2008.
Underwood's breakthrough came with the smartly crafted "Jesus, Take the Wheel" (Number 20, 2005), a ballad that showed off her Christian and country-pop appeal in equal measures. But the seething revenge track "Before He Cheats" (Number Eight, 2007), in which she destroyed a wayward boyfriend's truck with a baseball bat, was even more crossover-worthy: Set lyrically in karaoke bars and four-wheelers, the song was meant to be played in both. "Jesus Take The Wheel" and "Before He Cheats" both topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, as did "Wasted," the album's third single.
Underwood's follow-up, the double platinum Carnival Ride (2007), debuted at Number One and produced four more country Number Ones in "So Small," "All American Girl," "Last Name," and "Just A Dream," all of which also hit the pop Top 30. Among female country artists, only Rosanne Cash and Shania Twain had previously topped the chart four times off the same album.
Underwood's digital cover of the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" — recorded for the "American Idol" charity show Idol Gives Back — hit Number Six on the pop chart in 2007; two years later, another digital-only cover version, of M ötley Cr üe's "Home Sweet Home," reached Number 52 Country. Underwood's third album, Play On, was released in November 2009, entered both the Billboard 200 and the magazine's country album chart at Number One, and quickly went platinum. Its first single, the Shania-like stomp "Cowboy Casanova," also entered the country chart at Number One.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Chuck Eddy contributed to this article.
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