Carrie Underwood Comes Out to ‘Play’
Celebrity has not always been an easy mantle for Carrie Underwood, but it's one the 26-year-old Oklahoma native has learned to shoulder gracefully. And with the release of her third album, 'Play On,' Nov. 3rd, she admits she's becoming more comfortable with life in the spotlight.
"I'm kind of a closed person inherently," Carrie tells The Boot. "I'm not an easy person to get to know, and I feel like I keep a lot of myself closed off to the world. I think in just writing and growing up, it becomes easier to share yourself a little more. I got to write a lot more for this album and it ended up with over half the album being my songs. You can definitely hear [me as] a person in there in the songs. So it's really nice to be able to scratch the surface and to be able to open myself up a little more."
Carrie readily admits life is good right now, both personally and professionally. After all, combined sales of her first two albums -- 2005's 'Some Hearts' and 2007's 'Carnival Ride' -- are over 10 million. Since winning the fourth season of FOX-TV's 'American Idol' competition, Carrie has won four Grammy Awards and has won the Country Music Association's female vocalist title three times, as well as three Academy of Country Music's female vocalist honors. Last spring, she took home the Academy of Country Music's entertainer of the year award, becoming only the seventh woman in the show's 42-year history to win the coveted title.
On Nov. 11, Carrie will co-host the CMA Awards for the second year with Brad Paisley, and later in the month, she'll star in her very own FOX-TV special with Paisley, Dolly Parton and David Cook as her guests. "Life is good," she says. "I really am in a good place in my life and I think that does show."
On this crisp fall afternoon, Carrie is sitting in a Nashville studio where she's been doing interviews, excitedly talking about her new project. With her long blonde hair spilling over one shoulder, Carrie looks comfortably chic in a clingy black sweatshirt dress, smartly accessorized with a red bracelet, red belt and red Marc Jacobs flats. She's spent the better part of the day doing interviews with radio stations across the country. "I normally wear sweatpants," she says of her typically relaxed interview attire, "but today I wore a sweat dress!"
Carrie's goal with the album was to entertain her fans and help take them away from the every day grind. "I generally like to keep politics and whatnot out of the music, because it's where you go to escape. It's where you go to feel better about stuff," she says, "but I think it's on everybody's mind. I don't know if the world is getting worse of if we just know more. Sometimes it seems like there's just a lot of problems in the world."
The title track, 'Play On,' is an encouraging anthem about perseverance in the face of adversity. "Whenever stuff goes wrong, you've just got to get up in the morning and you've got to play on, finish your song, finish what your started, even when things don't look good," Carrie says of the song's message. "I've been really lucky in my life to where things really haven't gone wrong that often, but we all have our days ... It makes me feel really great when somebody who has been there comes up to me and says, 'I love this song,' which has already happened and I'm so excited to hear more stories like that. It's a really cool inspirational song."
The new album's first single, 'Cowboy Casanova,' is rocketing up the charts and proving to be a successful bit of escapist fun. The album also includes more poignant tunes such as 'Temporary Home,' which Carrie co-wrote. "I would love people to listen to 'Temporary Home' and know that I believe what I'm singing. I'm a Christian and this earth is just passing through, as life isn't the end," she says. "I would love people to listen to 'Mama's Song' and say 'OK, she loves her mama and she's in a good place in her life right now.' I think that's what a lot of it is about. Even things that I picked, songs that I didn't write this time, are happy songs."
Some of that contentment might easily be attributed to her relationship with her boyfriend, Mike Fisher, a hockey player with the Ottawa Senators. "He brings out the best in me. He's a good person," Carrie tells The Boot. "I've felt myself grow with him, which is really good. Certain people in your life I feel like you come across for a reason ... If we stay together or don't stay together, I'm very glad that I met him. He's been a really positive influence on my life."
Carrie appears relaxed and happy. Though some artists might feel anxiety when it comes to following up two multi-platinum albums, this songbird says she was less nervous in recording this record. "I feel like the second album had the most pressure for me," she says, acknowledging that she felt the first one had a shot at succeeding because of the 'American Idol' audience. "Then it exceeded expectations. It kept going and kept going and kept going and the next thing it was triple platinum and quadruple platinum and five times platinum, and it was like oh my gosh!
"On this one I feel like I'm home," she continues. "I'm in the music business. When people mention names like Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, sometimes my name is in there, too. So I feel like I'm home. It's always nerve-racking putting out a new album, but as far as pressure goes, I feel like most of that was on the second one."
In recording 'Play On,' Carrie had an opportunity to help one of her former band members expose his new group. 'What Can I Say' features special guests Sons of Sylvia, a trio consisting of brothers Ashley, Austin and Adam Clark. The group won Fox-TV's the 'Next Great American Band' contest. "The lead singer was actually my first fiddle player, I've known him for five years now," she says of Ashley Clark. "This is just a whole musical family. They are all super talented. I've known them for a while now and when thinking of duet partners, you think of the common names, there's a lot of people that come to mind and you think that would work, but I wanted someone that people would say, 'Who's that?' I think that makes it a lot more intriguing and a lot more exciting rather than saying, 'Oh that's so and so.' I'd rather people be asking me who somebody is. They are really good. I wouldn't have them on my album if I didn't like their music."
Carrie co-wrote seven of the 13 cuts on 'Play On.' In addition to writing with her usual Nashville collaborators such as Hillary Lindsey, Luke Laird and Brett James, Carrie opted to collaborate with writers outside Music City including 'American Idol' judge Kara DioGuardi, Mike Elizondo, known for his work with Dr. Dre and Eminem, and Raine Maida, co-founder of the rock band Our Lady Peace, and his wife Canadian singer Chantal Kreviazuk.
"I feel so much more comfortable as a writer. Adding a new element to kind of make me think on my toes is so much fun," Carrie says. "I listen to all kinds of music, all genres. I grew up listening to everything. I love everything, so bringing somebody from a different world that I love and respect, bringing them into my world to see what their influence can do in my writing style, it's a lot of fun."
Though she enjoyed stretching creatively by working with co-writers from different genres, Carrie's concerned fans might think she's jumping ship and leaving country music. "My biggest fear [was] that people would see names like that and think she's going to try to go into a different genre of music," she says, "which I'm promising right now it would never happen."
Carrie is committed to country and committed to her fans. She has a newly revamped website that allows for more fan interaction, but she admits she's not a fan of Twitter. Though there's someone out there posing as Carrie, she's quick to let fans know that isn't her and she doesn't plan on becoming one of the Twitter brigade."It just sounds like organized stalking to me," she says. "I'll be in a restaurant and I'll get home and somebody tweeted and talked about what I ordered and what I was wearing. In some cases that could be dangerous because you don't want everybody to know where you are in every second of every day."
Long before she was on stage herself, Carrie was a country fan and she wants to keep her supporters happy. "I was a member of a couple of fan clubs when I was growing up, but it really wasn't worth it," says Carrie, who insists she wants her fans to feel like they are getting something for their membership. "Every year we have fan club party, and it was amazing to me that people were [saying] 'Thank you for making it free.' I was like, 'This is us saying thank you to you guys! Why would we charge you for it?' It doesn't make sense."
Carrie sees her fan club and website as a vital link between her and her fans. "The intention is not to make money. The intention is to have a safe place where I can clear rumors up; where I can say thank you and let them know things first," she says. "The fans are your backbone. They are the street teams. They call and they bug the crap out of radio programmers to play my stuff. I know they do, and I thank them for it. And if anything is ever said that is negative, they are the first ones to know about it and they protect me. That's great and we all need that ... I talk to my fan club members. I know their names. I know their faces. I know them and I trust them."
Carrie is also a strong believer in giving back to her community and last summer the Checotah, Okla. native launched C.A.T.S. -- Checotah, Animal, Town and School Foundation -- to fund causes in her hometown, and says it's been extremely gratifying. "It's always been a goal of mine to be able to do something for my community because it is a small town. It's really important to me to be able to spread the love at times," says Carrie, who recently donated musical instruments to the high school band.
"I'm at a place in my life where things are calm. I have more money that I ever thought, or I would know what to do with -- not in a look how much I have kind of way," she says seeming rather embarrassed, "but I'm comfortable and set, so now it's time to help everyone else, too. When we went to Checotah and presented all these musical instruments and all this equipment, all it did was just made me want to do more. The band students were looking at everything afterwards and were crying and they were like, 'You don't know how much we needed this!' I've gotten letters from people who went to the football game last Friday night and saw all the shiny new instruments on the field and it just looked so great. Plus when you have a shiny new instrument to play, you feel that much more confident. There's more to come from the foundation!"
Needless to say, Carrie is enjoying her success and the opportunity to share it with others. "If anybody ever doubts God, look at my life. I didn't know what I was going to do and I was clubbed over the head with this amazing opportunity," she says of 'American Idol.' "Everything throughout the show and throughout everything that has happened since has been so perfect, even bad stuff has worked out for good, so everything happened exactly how it was supposed to. I always had dreams of being a country music singer, and here I am."