By the time Carrie Underwood emerged as winner of American Idol‘s fourth season in 2005, she had honed her craft as a vocalist, unleashing her powerful pipes on a wide range of styles, but never losing the distinct country edge that had been ingrained in her as a farm girl growing up in rural Checotah, Oklahoma. Born 33 years ago today, on March 10, 1983, Underwood spent her idyllic childhood playing on dirt roads, climbing trees and communing with woodland creatures, but the youngster also made numerous public appearances, singing at local and regional events, earning support from audiences long before they could call in to vote for her, forever altering the course of her life.
From her Idol audition in St. Louis in 2004, singing the emotional Bonnie Raitt hit, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” through her final “Producer’s Choice” performance of “Angels Brought Me Here” (a 2003 hit for the first Australian Idol winner, Guy Sebastian), Underwood explored several musical genres from country to soul and Broadway to rock & roll. Of course, her takes on country songs by Jo Dee Messina, Shania Twain and Martina McBride dominated her time in the spotlight, with three performances of McBride’s “Independence Day” leading the way.
Seven years before her American Idol victory, Underwood was a high-school freshman who, at just 14 years old, had been poised to sign a contract with Nashville’s Capitol label when a shake-up in management quashed the deal. Although she would later insist she wasn’t prepared for it at the time anyway, there’s no question she was already a poised, confident performer at that age, with the above clip offering evidence that while she may not have developed her own singing style just yet, she certainly had the vocal chops.
Released as a single by Martina McBride in late 1997, “A Broken Wing” was the second of Martina McBride’s Number One singles. The story of an abusive relationship (a theme McBride had previously explored with her Top 15 Gretchen Peters-penned hit, “Independence Day”), the melody of “A Broken Wing,” like the song’s protagonist, soars into the stratosphere, a place where, like McBride’s voice, Underwood’s is right at home.
The teenaged Carrie, performing the tune at the 1998 Miss Westark Pageant in Fort Smith, Arkansas, 65 miles from her hometown, may be a few years away from defining her own vocal style, staying comfortably close to Martina’s original version of “Wing,” but there’s no denying the burgeoning superstar on display, as the pageant emcee follows her performance enthusing, “Remember that name, because down the road, oooh, I expect big things from that child.”
That child, who now has a child of her own, has been on the road with her Storyteller Tour and will perform in Scotland at Glasgow’s Clyde Auditorium Friday night, followed by appearances in London and Dublin before returning to the U.S. next week.