|March 10, 1983|
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Carrie Marie Underwood was born on March 10, 1983 in Muskogee, OK, a small town made famous by Merle Haggard's country classic "Okie from Muskogee" (1992). Her family owned a farm in nearby Checotah, where her father Stephen, a paper mill worker, and her mother Carole, an elementary school teacher, raised her. She was the youngest of three, which included older sisters Shanna and Stephanie. Although no one in her family was musically inclined, Underwood began singing at her local church when she was three years old. She developed her vocal skills by performing at talent shows throughout her elementary years, where she often received compliments that her voice was surprisingly bigger than her petite frame. After high school, Underwood attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK where she majored in broadcast journalism. The future star produced a student-run television program and wrote for the university paper, The Northeastern. Underwood's love for music never diminished throughout college. She took part in a country music show at the university, which introduced her to the music of Patsy Cline and the Carter Family.
Upon the encouragement of friends, Underwood drove all night with her mother and friend to St. Louis, MO to audition for the mega-hit program, "American Idol." The reality singing competition had begun its run in 2002 and turned amateur singers such as Kelly Clarkson (Season 1 winner) and Clay Aiken (Season 2 runner-up) into bona fide music superstars. She arrived in St. Louis at 6 am and waited another eight hours to sing for the show's producers. After a grueling audition process, Underwood was invited to sing in front of "American Idol" judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson for the televised auditions. The country girl belted out Bonnie Raitt's 1991 ballad "I Can't Make You Love Me," which wowed the judges enough to send her to the semifinal rounds in Hollywood. Her journey to Los Angeles was the first time Underwood had ever been on a plane. Throughout her season, her powerful renditions of Heart's "Alone" (1987) to Rascal Flatt's "Bless the Broken Road" (2004) earned her praise from the judges and millions of viewer votes week after week. On May 25, 2005, Underwood was the cause of the show's first upset when she beat out rocker and fan favorite, Bo Bice, for the "Idol" crown.
Underwood's prize as the new "American Idol" included a contract with 19 Recordings/Arista Records. Her debut single "Inside Your Heaven" (2005) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It was also the first time a country artist held the top spot on that chart in five years. She took her act on the road for the "American Idols Live!" tour and signed endorsement deals with Skechers footwear and Hershey's chocolate. In the fall of 2005, Underwood released Some Hearts. Her debut album included the uplifting if not hilarious-sounding single, "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and the rock-inspired track "Before He Cheats." Underwood made an impressive debut on the charts, with Some Hearts selling over 300,000 copies in its first week and going platinum seven times. The singles did equally well sale-wise as they earned radio airplay on country, adult contemporary and Top 40 stations, solidifying Underwood's status as a true crossover artist.
She went back on tour in 2006 as a supporting act for country stars Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley. That same year, Underwood won her first two CMA Awards, winning the Horizon Award for Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist. Her Best Female win became even more memorable after fellow country star and co-nominee Faith Hill displayed poor sportsmanship during the show, throwing her hands up in the air and mouthing the word "WHAT!?" - all caught on camera - after Underwood was announced the winner. Post-show backlash prompted Hill to call Underwood the following day to apologize, explaining that her exaggerated reaction was only meant as "a joke." Underwood accepted her apology and said she was unaware of Hill's reaction until after the show aired.
She began work on her sophomore album Carnival Ride in early 2007 while tracks from Some Hearts were still storming up the charts and winning major awards. Underwood took home two Grammy Awards - the recording industry's highest honor - for Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. After Leann Rimes, she became the second country singer in Grammy history to win the coveted Best New Artist trophy. Even with all her success and accolades, the singer never forgot her musical roots and often returned to perform on the "American Idol" stage. She received a standing ovation for a cover of the Pretenders' 1994 hit "I'll Stand By You" during the sixth season finale. Meanwhile, Carnival Ride was certified double platinum in December 2007, fueled by the hit singles "So Small" and "All-American Girl." She also sang the theme song "Ever Ever After" for Disney's animated/live action fairy tale, "Enchanted" (2007), starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey.
Underwood had her own fairy tale come true during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, TN. Her idol, Randy Travis, joined Underwood onstage and invited her to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, considered country music's crowning achievement. She was inducted into the elite club in May 2008 at the age of 26, making her the youngest member at the time. Aside from the many accolades she received from the music industry, Underwood was also recognized for her charity work. A vegetarian since she was 13, Underwood was voted several times as "World's Sexiest Vegetarian" by animal rights organization PETA. The inspirational singer was also a strong supporter of Humane Society of the United States, Do Something, and the American Association for Cancer Research.
The price of fame for such a young star also meant Underwood's personal life was fodder for various tabloids and gossip websites. She began dating football player Tony Romo in 2007 when he was the Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Underwood denied the rumors at first, saying they were only friends, while Romo confirmed the relationship in a newspaper interview. The singer also briefly dated actor Chace Crawford of the hit television drama "Gossip Girl" (The CW, 2007- ) later that year. Underwood had another infamous awards show moment during the 2009 ACM Awards, where she was named Entertainer of the Year. Overwhelmed by her win, Underwood accepted the award from presenter Matthew McConaughey and made an off-the-cuff joke about seeing the actor's "boots" - a reference to a story he had told about getting women to sleep with him by telling them he designed custom-made boots for George Strait. The audience erupted into laughter, but Underwood confessed backstage how embarrassed she felt for making such a bold statement. In October 2008, the singer met Canadian hockey player Mike Fisher backstage at one of her concerts. Even though their busy schedules kept them apart for weeks at a time, Underwood and Fisher made their long-distance relationship work. Just over a year after they met, the couple announced their engagement in December 2009.
Two years after Carnival Ride, Underwood released her third album Play On (2009), on which she co-wrote seven tracks. The upbeat single "Cowboy Casanova" showed a mature side to the singer and became her 11th No. 1 single. She returned to the Grammy stage in February 2010 - not only to accept her award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for "I Told You So" with Randy Travis - but also to perform in a star-studded tribute to the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. The show's producers handpicked Underwood to join a lineup that included Celine Dion and Usher because Jackson had previously expressed his admiration for her. A week later, Underwood performed the national anthem at "Super Bowl XLIV" (CBS, 2010), the highly watched sporting event held in Miami, FL. Continuing to spread her wings creatively, the singer made her big screen acting debut in 2010's "Soul Surfer." The film was based on the real-life story of champion surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack when she was 13 years old but continued to compete professionally. Underwood had a supporting role as a church youth leader opposite Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid and AnnaSophia Robb (as Hamilton).