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Thread: Carrie Underwood, American Girl

  1. #1
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    Carrie Underwood, American Girl

    Carrie Underwood, American Girl | LifeZette

    In her first release in almost three-and-a-half years, Carrie Underwood’s fifth album, “Storyteller,” drops Friday. Most of the 13 tracks center on the country star’s familiar themes: tight-knit working-class communities, trust in faith, and intense struggle, whether personal or social.

    The album’s first single, “Smoke Break,” manages to incorporate all three in profiling a small-town, hard-working woman who scuffles to feed four children. When you’re doing all the giving, the lyrics explain, “It’s hard to be a good wife, good mother and a good Christian.

    “I honestly believe there is something, somewhere, watching over me, whether it’s angels or God himself pointing me in the directions I need to go.”

    No wonder the beleaguered, tee-totaling mom of the song sometimes needs “a stiff drink,” she confesses. Furthermore, “I know it might sound bad, but sometimes I need a smoke break.”

    Underwood, 32, is a seven-time Grammy Award winner who has recorded 21 No. 1 singles and sold 58 million records worldwide. She has never shied away from underscoring her faith and religious beliefs and lays them out for all to see.

    “It’s how I was raised,” she once told this writer. “I honestly believe there is something, somewhere, watching over me, whether it’s angels or God himself pointing me in the directions I need to go. I’m very thankful.”

    Underwood’s songs continue to make that clear, even as modern country music moves away from what used to be a staple of the genre, what old-school hillbilly star Porter Wagoner always called “a sacred number.”


    With her, what you see is what you get. She’s not fake at all.
    “After ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’ came out,” Underwood said, “I’d do interviews, and people would go, ‘Wow, singing about God! That was risky!’ I was like, ‘Really?’ Gospel music and country music has gone hand-in-hand for decades. Plus, it was just me. It was me!”

    “The girl-next-door quality she exudes isn’t an image,” confirmed Randy Lewis, who has covered country music for the Los Angeles Times since 1981. “It’s who she is.”

    On Nov. 4, for the eighth consecutive year, Underwood will co-host the Country Music Association’s live television broadcast with Brad Paisley. Together, they are country’s King and Queen of Clean, which is why Underwood was the perfect choice to play Maria von Trapp in NBC’s 2013 production of “The Sound of Music.” The live three-hour holiday special attracted 44 million viewers but got a “thumbs down” from reviewers.

    Underwood has said she never wants to do or say anything she can’t explain to her grandchildren, so she held her tongue the best she could.

    “Mean people need Jesus,” she tweeted. “They will be in my prayers tonight.”

    “Sometimes critics forget that a whole lot of folks travel the middle road,” said Chrissie Dickinson, former editor of the Journal of Country Music. “Underwood has no problem traveling down that path.”

    While former country — and now pop star — Taylor Swift struts her cool, inviting such rock superstars as Mick Jagger and Alanis Morissette onstage to duet, Underwood downplays the flash. As glamorous as she is onstage, she also gives off an honest, down-to-earth vibe in sweatpants and T-shirts.

    “I can’t hang with people like Lady Gaga,” she said. “I don’t fit in there. That’s not my heart. I grew up listening to country music. I love to bring other elements of music into mine. We have some borderline rock and pop songs, and I love doing stuff like that. But in the end, I’m a country artist, and we wanted people to know that right off the bat.”

    “I think that she is probably the best female vocalist to come out of Nashville, maybe ever,” said her friend Miranda Lambert, the CMA’s five-time Female Vocalist of the Year. “The mystery about her is that she does have this girl-next-door image, but then she comes out in fishnets. The first time I saw that, I was like, ‘Hey, that’s pretty gutsy!’ I think it’s cool. But if I had her thighs, I would do the same. With her, what you see is what you get. She’s not fake at all.”

    Since winning “American Idol” in 2005, Underwood has made a career of celebrating the old-fashioned values she grew up near the tiny rural town of Checotah, Okla. The population hovers at just under 3,500, and the “beauty shop” is nestled in the town hardware store.

    “The people in Oklahoma are not like any other people anywhere else,” she told me. “I know there are good people everywhere, but it seemed like there were more good, happy people in Oklahoma. In my little town, if you drove your car down the street and you waved at somebody, they’d wave back. We all knew each other, and it was nice that I could go out with my friends and roam around the streets and my parents didn’t have to worry. It was a good place to grow up.”

    The baby of a family of three girls, Underwood learned to sing in church as a child. Hers was a solid and seemingly all-American upbringing. The Underwoods resided in the same house for more than 30 years, raised a few cattle (“We’re not the croppin’ kind,” Carrie explained), and the singer’s grandfather lived five blocks down the street. A tomboy in her youth, she has always been extremely close to her mother, and continues to be today.

    It’s easy to imagine her laughing and eating pizza with her gal pals or playing softball at the church picnic.

    In high school, Underwood was a well-rounded student, the salutatorian of her graduating class who balanced athleticism and cheerleading with her studies. At college at Oklahoma’s Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where she studied broadcasting, she joined a sorority, volunteered for hospice care, and participated in beauty pageants and talent shows.

    She waited tables to help her parents, an elementary school teacher and a paper mill worker, pay her tuition. She’d never been on an airplane until she auditioned for “American Idol,” and almost turned back at the last minute.

    Throughout history, from Roy Acuff to Dolly Parton, country music culled its biggest stars from its own brethren — people who grew up working the land or blue-collar jobs and sang about hard times. No matter how much money they made doing it (and Underwood is reported to be the biggest “American Idol” earner of all time, with a total career net worth of more than $110 million), country stars were symbolic ordinary people who never “got above their raising,” or forgot their roots.

    Most of that began to change in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and now new singers come to Nashville with a lawyer ready to draw up their deals.

    Underwood manages to fill that gap, even as Nashville was at first skeptical of a young woman who had come to town via an “American Idol” win. But her genuineness quickly won over Music City and made her legions of new fans who had never seen her on the television show.

    She remains a huge star, living in two worlds despite an old-fashioned view of life. This may be the key to her fan base.

    “The adolescent girls and college-age women who fell in love with her a decade ago on ‘American Idol’ are now entering college, or starting careers, or getting married and raising families,” Dickinson said. “But Carrie is still a relatable figure to a lot of them. It’s easy to imagine her laughing and eating pizza with her gal pals or playing softball at the church picnic.”

    In 2010, Underwood married Mike Fisher, then a hockey player for the Ottawa Senators, now with the Nashville Predators. When he initially expressed an interest in knowing her, she suggested a group setting, as in the meet-and-greet line after a show in Toronto. Theirs is a union of equals, and not just in their careers. The two do Bible studies together, for example. The singer calls him “my best friend. I trust him more than I’ve ever trusted any human being. He makes me a better person, and hopefully I do the same for him.”

    Underwood is also a young working mother. Last February, the couple welcomed their first child, Isiah Michael Fisher. In June, when their dogs accidentally locked themselves in the car with the infant, Underwood didn’t wait for help — she broke a window to free them.

    “I’m a very practical person,” she said.

    With that mindset, Underwood looks to the future.

    “I can’t stay in the music business forever, and hopefully that ride’s not over. I would just be so grateful for what I had.”

  • #2
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    ^^ What a nice write up. She has this incredible talent, yet she is so sweet and humble. I'm so proud to be one of her many fans.

  • #3
    Ultimate Carrie Fan Farawayhills's Avatar
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    Thanks, LouisaJessie.

    I'd trust Alanna Nash to write a more perceptive article than many of the album reviewers put together. She's one person I would consider a truly informed observer of the role and background of Country Music in American culture. She's Dolly Parton's biographer, and is well known for her books on the (highly controversial) role of management in the career of Elvis Presley. Voted one of the 100 leading figures in Country Music, she holds writing awards from both the CMA and Belmont College.

    The quote from Chrissie Dickinson (another leading writer on the genre's cultural role and roots)
    "Sometimes critics forget that a whole lot of folks travel the middle road,”
    goes a long way to explaining why some of the criticism (and some of the award voting) takes a somewhat grudging view of Carrie's Mainstream-focused approach to much of her music. More biting, earthy, socially critical and roots-influenced music may catch the attention of people who fully commit, in their work or their art, to the deeper currents in the genre - but doesn't necessarily affect large swathes of the general public (who ultimately pay their salaries) in the same way.

    I'm reminded here of a passage from Will Hermes Rolling Stone review:
    "But it smartly tips its crossover mix towards the rootsier feel of her first album, connecting with the narrative-driven creative renaissance currently being spearheaded by Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. Compared to the competition, Underwood's outlaws tend towards the tame, but that's not necessarily a flaw."
    Some may see that as a put down - but the words "not necessarily a flaw" actually ring true. Carrie is, at heart, as I've always argued, a part of the female "New Wave". She's indirectly criticized her nineties and early 2000s predecessors, by saying that some of them made choices that disappointed her. And the "singles" half of her first album, with its mixture of "back to basics" Country themes (faith, leaving home, cheating, and response to adversity), with a (for the time) unusual mixture of advanced and traditional music, helped to kick-start the New Wave, alongside Miranda's breakout.

    But why it's no "flaw" is that Carrie did it in a way that was accessible to far more people. Simon Renshaw helped a lot in launching Miranda - as (in her favourite co-writer, Natalie Hemby's words) "the rebel who wanted to blow up everything" - but Renshaw's British background and then prickly reputation as the Dixie Chicks' manager limited his ability, at the time, to make Miranda a Nashville favourite. It was only after her line manager, Marian Kraft, left Renshaw's organization to go independent that Miranda really gained widespread public notice for her third Mainstream album.

    By contrast, Carrie has always had the wide appeal to the centre ground - and that made her a "gateway" to the "New Wave" for large numbers of people who would probably never fully relate to the critical darlings.

    In my view, both are needed. Country has to stay on the cutting edge, and has to respect its Roots - but if it wants to be a Mainstream genre, it also has to stay relevant to enough of the people who might listen to it. Carrie is a woman of her times, and a woman of her background - and she probably reflects more of that wide, changing and open-ended social kaleidoscope than do many of the more Alternative-leaning singers who tend to become critical favourites. What the critics and the specialists should remember, and should sometimes give more credit to, is that Carrie is those things - but she's also an individual. She takes influences that people can relate to - but she puts her own stamp on them. If she is a wide-ranging contemporary Nashville singer, she is also (as Miranda says), the best of them - and a genuine artistic personality of her own making.

    I'd thank Alanna Nash for weighing in on this - it's a reasoned article, with a perceptive context, that I'd strongly recommend.

  • #4
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    i love your writing faraway..... so lyrical and poetic.....
    bluetb4, Farawayhills and pgk like this.

  • #5
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    I think that is a well done article and captures a lot of Carrie's appeal. For me personally I think she is an extremely talented woman and I enjoy her music immensely but the thing that resonates with me is that I like 'her'. That seems very odd to say about someone I have never met and likely will never meet and from all accounts is a natural introvert who doesn't share her personal life either in the press or in her music. I think her personality is a large part of her appeal. One of my favorite interviews she's done is one from several years ago that many on here dislike. It was one with a Canadian interviewer who was clearly not really a fan and came across as very skeptical in the beginning. What I found fascinating was watching her clearly charm him out of his skepticism in the span of 20 minutes without even trying.

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    What a wonderful read -- thanks for posting. But oh my goodness did I almost have heart failure when I read the line, I can’t stay in the music business forever, to which I shouted out that YES YOU CAN!!!! And you'd better!!!

    Look at Dolly or Loretta or even pave your own path for a very long, long, long singing career. My goodness much of her career thus far has been paving her own path and break down ceilings and carrying the future generation of female singers on her back. She's too good and too special not to be sharing her gift with us for a very long time.

  • #7
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    it is so fantastic that no matter how far she gets in life and in talent, she is still so sweet and just Carrie. I love it!

  • #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaisyTweets View Post
    What a wonderful read -- thanks for posting. But oh my goodness did I almost have heart failure when I read the line, I can’t stay in the music business forever, to which I shouted out that YES YOU CAN!!!! And you'd better!!!

    Look at Dolly or Loretta or even pave your own path for a very long, long, long singing career. My goodness much of her career thus far has been paving her own path and break down ceilings and carrying the future generation of female singers on her back. She's too good and too special not to be sharing her gift with us for a very long time.
    I don't think Carrie will be going anywhere for a long time. I look forward to seeing where she is in the next decade and beyond.

    Touring at 50? Carrie Underwood Says 'It Would Be Really Nice'

    “You just never know if [in five years] people are going to be, ‘Oh, I’m sick of that Carrie Underwood. I’m done with her,'” Underwood says. So, as for the possibility of touring at 50, she adds, “I don’t ever want to expect that I will be that fortunate, but it would be really nice.”

    The country superstar believes that it’s important to pace herself and to spread her work out in a way that encourages creativity instead of stifling it.

    “If you keep doing the ‘make an album, promote the album, tour, make an album,’ where do you get to grow, where do you get to be a human, where do you get to shift your focus for a minute?” she asks.

    In fact, when others comment on Underwood’s choice to “taking time off” — for example, when she had baby Isaiah earlier this year — she feels perplexed: “I’m like, ‘I have?'” she says.

    Rather, the singer is keeping her creative juices flowing by working on other projects — not related to her country music career per se, but projects that are still vital.

    “I still have a million things to do … creativity isn’t just about making albums, selling albums and going on tour,” Underwood explains. “There’s a whole lot of other things I get to do, like Sound of Music: Live! or making clothing and stuff like that.”


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