Earlier this week, radio trade numbers showed an amazing accomplishment for our latest American Idol, Carrie Underwood. Her double-platinum debut CD, Some Hearts, has now broken all sales records for winners of this popular star-making show. The best part Carrie's success is that she did it her way, based on her own strengths. Here's what I wrote about her breakout single, Jesus Take the Wheel, last month:
A few days ago, Larry King asked Carrie Underwood where she got her big break. I'm pretty sure she mentioned the thirty-million-plus audience who saw her win American Idol somewhere in her answer. Kelly Clarkson has ridden her first place to huge success; and country singer/ex-Marine Josh Gracin (fourth-place winner) is now an established chart-topper. I can't vouch for Rubin and Clay (who basically tied the year they won), but if you win the Idol competition you have at least an excellent shot at stardom.
The difference with Carrie U. is that she is doing it her way. Her first big single is driving up the charts now, and it's a surprising winner. Idol fans expect a lot of Whitney Houston from their darlings. They'll have a long wait from Underwood. Her idol, vocally, is obviously Martina McBride. And Martina is all Country. Based on Carrie's first release, she's all Country, too. The big guns behind the Idol machine may be a bit miffed, but music is music in the end. And a gold record is the same color in all formats.
Underwood's single, Jesus Take the Wheel, rolls right down the middle of the Country road (if you'll pardon the obvious metaphor). Strict three-verse structure, strong hook, and soothing chords run the show. Lyrically, this song rings a strong Christian ballad bell. Wheel is an inspirational story about a young, single Mom whose car (and life) is out of control. (Read the title again now.) Underwood, however, takes these staid standards and loads in her stunning vocal power. You don't have to be a Sunday-steady or a Country die-hard to love this record. You will fall in love with Carrie, though, if you listen for just a couple refrains. She is the real deal, regardless of where her big break came from.
Jesus Take the Wheel will do well despite its potentially narrow audience. The enormous exposure provided by the glittering American Idol stage makes Carrie Underwood's name familiar and opens all the right doors. The rest is up to Ms. Underwood. She is young, strong, appealing, and oh-so talented. No reason for comparisons of Carrie to Martina to be embarrassing to Ms. McBride at all. Carrie may not be exactly what Idol had in its pop-oriented mind, but I believe that she will do them proud. She'll do it her way, and you will like it, even if you don't like American Idol. Carrie can take that to the bank.
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