Carrie Underwood proves steady hitmaker

'American Idol' winner to co-host CMA Awards

NASHVILLE -- After three years, Carrie Underwood is no longer the country newcomer on a meteoric rise.

She's become a multiplatinum, steady hitmaker with two No. 1 albums and eight Top 5 singles, seven of them chart toppers. And while she may not be a veteran, she's certainly become one of country music's seasoned stars.

"I'm a lot more comfortable with the process," she said recently. "I have two good albums under my belt, and now I can focus on what I really want to do and say."

Perhaps as a nod to her established superstar status, Underwood will join as co-host the Country Music Association Awards, which will air live Wednesday on ABC. The 25-year-old also is nominated for album of the year and female vocalist, an honor she's won the last two years.

"It's hard to get tired of it when it still seems so new," she said of her nominations. "I've only been doing this three years. For a lot of people it takes longer to get nominated. I'm lucky."

After her "American Idol" win in 2005, Underwood was whisked into the studio to capitalize on her sudden fame. When her debut album "Some Hearts" sold phenomenal numbers, she felt a lot of pressure to follow it up.

"I didn't want to be a one-album wonder kind of person," she said.

That's no longer an issue. Her sophomore album "Carnival Ride" is approaching 3 million in sales at a time when very few releases reach that level, and it continues to spin off hits with her latest single, the poignant "Just a Dream," now No. 1 on Billboard's country chart.

"There's no tried and true formula for making an album or picking songs. I sing songs that I'd like to hear on the radio. You kind of go with your gut and do things you like. Because even if it sold massively, I'd hate to sing songs that I didn't like onstage."

Before "Idol," Underwood's idea of fame was about like everyone else's -- all glitz and fun.

Not anymore.

"You never think about how much work goes into it. Now I think it's like I run a company. If I do good, everybody gets rewarded. So many people depend on me every night to do my job, and I depend on them. It's a business, too, and every night you go to work and if you do bad then everybody does bad. There's a lot of pressure and a lot of work involved. But when you work hard and everything goes right you see the fruits of your labor."

She's emerged as the most successful "Idol" alum, an accomplishment she largely credits to finding a home right away with country fans.

"The country music community didn't have to embrace me at all. That's where it started after 'Idol.' Radio was nice enough to play my stuff and fans were nice enough to request it. Then other people started opening their minds and their hearts, too. I feel so lucky that so many people opened their arms to me."

This fall has been eventful for her. Underwood released a special edition of "Carnival Ride" with five holiday songs, recorded a cut on the "Elvis Presley Christmas Duets" CD and had her likeness in wax unveiled at Madame Tussauds in New York.

After her headlining tour with Little Big Town ends next month, she'll take a couple of weeks off to "get away and clear my head" before starting on a third album. She's already sifting through material and will start writing her own songs after the tour.

"I think I'm getting more comfortable with my writing abilities," she said. "I know that they're there now. In the beginning I was like 'I'll try it, and if I can't I won't mess with it again.' But I'm not one of those people that has to write every song because there are so many people out there who are great writers. But it is important to at least try."
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