On May 23rd, 2006, just two days short of the one-year anniversary of her season four victory on American Idol, Carrie Underwood made her performance debut on the Academy of Country Music Awards telecast, going into the night with four nominations, including two for “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and nods for Top Female and Top New Female Vocalist.
Underwood’s debut LP Some Hearts was only six months old but had already sold more than three million copies. The set’s first official single “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” which she had already sung on the CMA Awards the previous fall, had topped the country chart, been a Top 20 pop hit, and, not surprisingly, was a hit at Christian radio as well.
Introduced by ACM Awards host Reba McEntire (a fellow Oklahoma native), Underwood went into her performance having packed a lifetime of memories into just one year, so it’s no wonder this was a particularly emotional one for the 23-year-old, who earned a standing ovation from the industry-heavy crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. She also went on to earn two awards that night, with one for Single of the Year and another for Top New Female Vocalist.
Caught off guard by the Single of the Year honor, a tearful Underwood thanked the song’s producer Mark Bright. When she accepted the latter honor, presented by Jo Dee Messina and another Okie, Blake Shelton, Underwood pulled out a folded sheet of paper and said, excitedly, “I’ve got a list this time.” Thanking the Academy, American Idol and fans, family and friends, the singer closed by noting, “I wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t opened all the doors for me so, thank you, God.”
The 51st ACM Awards this weekend will feature several all-star collaborations, but Underwood will step into the solo spotlight for a performance of her latest single “Church Bells.” Earlier this week, during a stop on her Storyteller Tour in Lincoln, Nebraska, Underwood surprised the audience with the news that they were taking part in the shooting of a music video for the tune.
Underwood is already an ACM winner this year. She’s been tapped to receive the special ACM Lifting Lives Gary Haber Award, recognizing a country artist or music industry professional who is actively dedicated to helping others. In 2009, the then-reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year returned to her alma mater, Checotah High School to surprise students with a donation of more than $100,000 worth of new instruments for their music department.
The 51st ACM Awards air live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 3rd at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.