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Carrie Underwood, Other ‘Idol’ Winners Dish on Life After Show

Arlene Richie, jpistudios.com

She’s traveled a long way from her hometown of Checotah, Okla., but Carrie Underwood still remembers where she comes from. The former ‘American Idol‘ champ joined several other ‘Idol’ winners as part of a recent Fox TV special, ‘AI: Welcome Home,’ dishing on their often humble upbringings, and how fame has affected their lives.

“That one decision to go try out, it changed my entire life,” Carrie acknowledges (quote via Billboard.com). “It’s great to be able to really get in there and do something, or raise awareness, or make people wonder, talk about it. People will be like, ‘Oh I can do something about it too. I can go volunteer.’ It’s nice to be able to have that platform.”

For Carrie, being a celebrity is her opportunity to promote causes she is passionate about. “The wonderful thing about having a career, especially one like mine, is I get to do good things,” she says.”I’m a huge animal lover. There’s so many amazing charity organizations out there that help kids, that help schools. I feel like there need to be more about teaching people the right way to care for their animals.”

She may have sold millions of albums and traveled all over the world, but the new bride says she will never forget her rural hometown. “[Checotah] has the best people,” she gushes. “They’re wonderful and nice, and throughout my whole career you can still, at any given moment, walk down Main Street and see signs in store windows and things like that. They’re very supportive.”

Frequent Music City visitor — and close friend to Reba McEntireKelly Clarkson was the winner for the inaugural season of ‘American Idol’ in 2002. The Texas native, who can currently be heard as Jason Aldean‘s duet partner on his new hit, ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay,’ says her southern upbringing helped pave her own widely successful career path. “Right after the show, everybody had their opinion and idea about what I needed to do as far as music,” she states. “I don’t know if it’s a Texan thing, but I know who I am, and I know what I want to represent, and what kind of mark I want to leave.”

Kelly’s own career, which has taken her all over the United States as well as to countries like New Zealand, Scotland and South Africa, says she will always keep her roots in Texas. “I always call it my Tara — from ‘Gone with the Wind,’” she says. “It’s the place where Scarlett O’Hara finally went home and felt at peace.”

The 28-year old says she understands America’s fascination with the TV show that draws in millions of viewers each week. “We’re all like normal average kids. That’s what’s so attractive about ‘American Idol,’” she explains. “We are ‘the people next door.’ That’s the American dream. It gives everybody the sense of hope that, ‘Man if they can do that, I can do this as well.’”

Season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino says her victory created an opportunity for her to exchange her sometimes difficult surroundings in North Carolina for a better life. “I’ve traveled the world. I’ve been able to share my music with a lot of people, and that’s always been my dream,” she admits. “Of course, God has blessed where I can take better care of my family and my daughter”

Jordin Sparks, who won the sixth season ‘AI’ at only 17 years old, reveals that she always planned on leaving her hometown of Glendale, Ariz. for the bright lights of New York City, and credits the hit TV show with giving her the opportunity. “I don’t know if I would be where I am without ‘American Idol,’ but I said I wanted to be on Broadway when I was four, and here I am actually doing it, and it’s so amazing.”

‘American Idol’ will kick off their tenth season on January 19, 2011, with two new faces — Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler — joining Randy Jackson at the judges table.

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