“The Oklahoma farm girl who became America's most successful ‘Idol.'”
That's how the familiar voice of narrator Jim Forbes introduced Carrie Underwood when the country music superstar was featured earlier this fall on VH1's long-running documentary series “Behind the Music.”
More than seven platinum-selling, chart-topping, award-winning years since she won “American Idol,” the Checotah native says she still feels like that small-town Oklahoma girl.
“It's so funny, 'cause I still feel like — I don't know — I just have a weird job. I'm the same person,” Underwood said with a laugh during a phone interview earlier this month. “I mean, it's definitely a fun job. ... I get to travel and go all over the place. And I definitely know how blessed and how lucky I am. So, I feel like I'm not all like Hollywood or entitled or anything.”
She may live in Tennessee now, but there's still no place like home. Underwood, 29, is bringing her third headlining tour to Oklahoma for two autumn shows. “The Blown Away Tour,” which is supporting her new album of the same name, will stop Thursday at Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena and Nov. 21 at Tulsa's BOK Center.
“My parents still live in the house I grew up in, which I'm so thankful for, because there's my home in Nashville. But if I say I'm going home, it means I'm going to Oklahoma,” Underwood said in a clear Sooner State drawl. “I feel like the crowd is always just so much more energetic. The closer we get to home, I feel like the more fun I really, really get to have onstage.”
Blowing away fans
The five-time Grammy winner said fun was a priority when she and her team devised the production and set for “The Blown Away Tour,” although her fourth album took a thematically darker and more dramatic turn than her previous records. “Blown Away” was released in May, more than 30 months after Underwood's third album, 2009's platinum-selling “Play On,” stretching her previous every-two-years release schedule by six months.
“It's so easy to get caught up in a routine when you do this. You know, you make your album, you write and you figure out what you're gonna sing, you go sing it, you go out on the road and you start all over again. So I think it's really easy for a lot of artists to just settle into their one particular sound, and I don't want to be like that. I feel like I want to kind of reinvent myself with every album and have every album definitely still sound like me but kind of a slightly different version,” she said.
“I really try not to put too many stipulations on what I want the album to be. ... I love just kind of going with the flow and the vibe and seeing what's gonna happen. But it did, a lot of it did end up being dramatic. And I love that because I love being able to sing the songs and see the characters in my head as I'm singing to the audience.”
Both “Blown Away” and its cinematic title track, a vivid story song about an abused girl who leaves her drunken daddy to the swirling winds of fate during an Oklahoma twister, already have been certified platinum. Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins, the songsmiths responsible for Underwood's 2006 smash “Before He Cheats,” penned the single, and director Randee St. Nicholas worked with Underwood to develop a music video that accented the storytelling with “The Wizard of Oz”-inspired flourishes like a pair of ruby-colored boots, a golden-yellow road to a new future and, of course, a tornado fearsome enough to blow a house away.
“When I first heard the song, I knew my album was gonna be titled ‘Blown Away.' It was that instantaneous, like ‘Oh my gosh, this is so perfect. I need this song, I have to sing this song, the album's going to be called “Blown Away.”' And then of course, the tour, we really do, it sounds so cheesy and I've said it a zillion times and other people say it to me, too, but I want to blow people away. I want them to leave saying, ‘Oh my gosh, that was such an amazing experience,'” she said.
Still flying high
The 2005 “American Idol” said her team devised a set piece for the new tour that soars even higher than the flying pickup she rode and sang in during her “Play On Tour.”
“It's such a cool moment. My thing is, I love to get in the back (of the arenas). I love to see everybody because if I had a ticket to a concert, I would most likely be up at the top at the back. We just want to be sure everybody really feels that they get their money's worth and that they leave saying, ‘I thought I had terrible seats, but it turns out I did not.' So we just have fun with it and I feel like I get to have a little moment with pretty much everybody in the entire arena, which is really cool for me,” she said.
She may be an arena headliner instead of a cheap-seats spectator these days, but Underwood still is surprised by some milestones, like when the producers of “Behind the Music” came calling.
“I was like, ‘Are they sure they want to do one over me?' Because my life, you know, it's pretty charmed, and I really haven't been in too many scandals or had near-death experiences or anything like that. But yeah, they were really great. I really liked the way it turned out,” she said.
“I'm just really happy with how everything turned out. I love this album and I think it's my best album to date. And I feel the same way about the tour. I feel like in every way, we've all really stepped it up and made something that's really fun. It's fun for me to go on tour and sing those songs every night. So I look forward to seeing what else is gonna happen.”