Carrie UnderwoodCarrie Underwood remembers quite well what it was like each time she took the stage on 'American Idol', eventually emerging as the winner of season four in May 2005. Now, as she watches the show, Carrie reaches out to the contestants to let them know she's just a phone call away if they need advice or guidance on the roller-coaster adventure to the top.

"I give out my phone number to the contestants freely," Carrie tells Self magazine. "I also like to send a present for making the top 10. I'll send a dog tag necklace from Tiffany and put 'Congrats on the top 10! Love, CU' on it."

The upcoming ninth season of American Idol kicks off this week (Tues., Jan 12), with the live two-hour semifinals airing Tuesday, Feb. 23. Stepping up as a judge in the new season is Ellen DeGeneres who replaces Paula Abdul. Carrie says she's confident Ellen is exactly what the show and contestants need.

"I was surprised the Paula thing didn't work out," says the superstar. "But you knew that whoever they were going to get to fill Paula's shoes had to be able to make the contestants feel good about themselves, even if they didn't do that great a job. Ellen is one of the most positive people I've ever met. I love her!"