Carrie Underwood Leaves Us Blown Away
by kristin luna
Embroidered sleeveless dress, Valentino ($7,900). The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-737-7603. Earrings, Kara Ross ($1,900). Neiman Marcus, Fashion Show, 702-731-3636. Bracelet ($480) and cuff ($525), Miriam Haskell. Bags, Belts & Baubles, Wynn Las Vegas, 702-770-3555. Ring, David Yurman (price on request). The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-794-4545. Fringe heels, Jimmy Choo ($1,495). Crystals, CityCenter, 702-366-0503
Carrie Underwood is that “all-American girl” she sings about on her 2007 album Carnival Ride: She lounges in sweats, albeit with thick, matted false eyelashes still weighing her down from her photo shoot, as she chats candidly about her “wild” plans for the night, which include a trip to the new Whole Foods near her Brentwood, Tennessee, home and cuddling with Ace and Penny, her canine sidekicks.
And, like so many women her age, Underwood chose Las Vegas for her bachelorette party before tying the knot with Mike Fisher (of the NHL’s Nashville Predators) in Georgia in 2010. Looking at her lean figure, one would never guess that her favorite Vegas activity is indulging in the local dining scene. “There are some really fabulous places to eat there,” says the longtime vegetarian who recently made the move to veganism. “We always go out to eat when we’re in town. I love Lakeside at Wynn—Mr. Wynn is a vegan so they have a lot of stuff on the menu that I can eat. I know where the Whole Foods is there, too. If we’re not eating out, I’m making my own food. I will never order room service—it weirds me out!”
She probably won’t have to worry about that on this quick trip to Vegas, specifically the MGM Grand Garden Arena, for the 47th annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 1. She’ll have hectic rehearsals for her performance while dealing with a whirlwind of hair, makeup, and wardrobe. The crooner is nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year, as well as Vocal Event of the Year for her “Remind Me” duet with pal Brad Paisley. A seasoned veteran of the awards show scene—she has co-hosted the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville with Paisley for the past four years—she welcomes the change of venue that the ACMs offers. “It’s really cool to have the show somewhere [outside of Tennessee],” she says. “You want ACMs to feel different than any other shows. There’s a little more of an edge to it—you can get away with more, like the whole Steven Tyler thing. [Underwood and Tyler performed her hit single “Undo It” and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” together at last year’s show.] I don’t know if I could have pulled that off anywhere but Vegas.”
ACM executive producer R.A. Clark is eager to again work with Underwood, the only female artist to be named ACM Entertainer of the Year twice. She wowed the audience last year with her versatility, transitioning from the dynamic Tyler duet to a powerful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” with Vince Gill at the ACM Girls’ Night Out, moving much of the audience to tears. “It shows the breadth of her capabilities,” Clark says. “On a television show, she connects with the home audience. Whatever boot camp they do at [American] Idol works. Close up, how she moves on stage, her personality, her locking eyes with the fans at home—she’s magnetic.”
While the song she’s performing this year has yet to be announced, it will undoubtedly be from her new album, Blown Away, out May 1. But don’t expect her usual mix of weepy sagas (like “Just a Dream”) and angry chick tunes (think “Before He Cheats”). Underwood’s fourth compilation will be a marked change from her first three. “I’ve always been known for power ballads, and there’s not really that at all in the album,” she says. “I honestly think it’s just because the album kind of makes itself. We’ll look at the end and think what could we use more of, but it is what it is. I don’t think, Oh, I need this power ballad. If you can’t find a song like that, you don’t force it. I have one song that’s so beautiful and so moving but it’s so quiet. It’s a story, and you really listen to it—I’m not trying to impress people with what I can do. I’ve done enough by now that I don’t have to sing to the moon with every single song.”
The first single from Blown Away hit airwaves in February and is decidedly the album’s most upbeat track, she says. “‘Good Girl’ is about that girl that you know or you have been—I know and I have been this girl before—and she’s got stars in her eyes and the guy isn’t good enough for her and doing Lord knows what behind her back, and she thinks the world of him. Love is blind, right? So she doesn’t see him for what he is. And I’m the one trying to talk some sense into her: ‘What is wrong with you? You’re awesome, and you’re with…that?’ It’s really rocking—it’s definitely a foot-tapper.” The rest of the album, however, will lean toward the melodramatic. “There’s a little bit of a darker side to it,” she says. “It’s just stormier.”
Clark, for one, looks forward to her new, edgier sound. “She can do anything—she can rock, sing a ballad, strip it down to acoustic, do a power song,” he says. “A consummate professional, she shows up on time, is always made up, is ready for the camera, is ready to do interviews, and always, always is great.”
Indeed, Underwood does seem to talk in flawless sound bites (an effect of her years spent as a mass communications major, no doubt), and couldn’t appear more polished. She’s truly a knockout: from her dewy, glowing complexion to the curtain of sleek golden hair that cascades down her back, to her immaculately toned physique—a result of hours spent on the treadmill while touring. “There’s nothing else to do during the day,” she says. The only time she got frazzled was when asked to scribble a handwritten note for Vegas. “Nobody writes anymore!” she says. “Everybody texts. My penmanship is terrible.” Then, she busted out into a rap when “Baby Got Back” came on the radio, and couldn’t resist a shimmy to the song “My Humps.” She really is just like any other 29-year-old woman—but more polished and with a collection of Grammys and other musical accolades to boot.
Underwood will launch a major tour for her new album this fall, the dates of which have yet to be announced. While she’s not one for a lot of vocal exercise before a show—“I’ll hear people warming up for an hour before they go on stage, and I’m like, ‘You’re wasting it! What are you doing?’” she says—doing a tour of such magnitude requires a lot of physical preparation in advance. For Underwood, this means countless hours in the gym, both pre-tour and on the road, with her trainer. “I do my own hair and makeup on tour, so I figure [a trainer] is my splurge,” she says. “I don’t take a giant team with me, so I feel like that’s the one thing I deserve while I’m on tour: Someone to say, ‘Hey, let’s go!’ and keep me motivated.”
While she travels with a small, intimate entourage, the country star often leaves at home one vital member, which might surprise people: her husband. “We see each other as much as we can, but he’s not one for road life,” she says. “He can’t really sleep on the bus. You can’t have a giant bed in the back, so I’m like, ‘You’re touching me! Go away. What are you doing? Scoot over!’ He gets bored. I think if he ever comes out with us on tour for any length of time, I’m going to have to find him something to do!”
Underwood’s on-tour routine is all about having a schedule: She wakes up, works out, cooks her own food—“I don’t have a chef on tour; I make my own food on the bus”—plays with her dogs, gets ready for the show, does a sound check, breaks for dinner, then does one final round of preparation before it’s show time. “I’m pretty regimented, but really not a whole lot goes on,” she says. “That’s spread out over many hours.”
In the midst of everything else she has going on this year—the awards show, the album, the tour, her home and married life—the one thing Underwood definitely plans to do is return to the franchise that launched her to international fame. “American Idol isn’t even just a part of my past—it’s the catalyst that led me here,” she says. “It’s always so much fun going back because so many of the people who worked on the show when I was there still work there. Plus, it’s fun to meet a new batch of contestants and see how bright and starry-eyed they all are.”
Photography by robert ascroft; Styled by Mimi Lombardo; Assistant stylist: Elise Yetton; Hair and makeup by Melissa Schleicher