A conversation with country superstar Carrie Underwood

Country music superstar Carrie Underwood might just be the hardest working woman in show business.

The 39-year-old singer has sold 66 million albums worldwide since beginning her career 17 years ago. She also has 28 number one singles including the global smash hit, “Before He Cheats.” Underwood’s 100 major industry honors include eight Grammys, 16 American Country Music (ACM) awards and 23 Country Music Television (CMT) awards.
Her current tour is a massive undertaking that moves from city to city like a floating empire. Prior to the tour’s launch, Underwood spent a month rehearsing, practicing the show’s twelve costume changes and learning how to ride in a conveyance that transports her above the seats to a secondary stage near the rear of the auditorium. Milwaukee is the sixth stop on the 43-city tour in support of her newest album, “Denim & Rhinestones.” Audiences experience a two-hour audio/visual spectacle that concludes with an amazing cover of the Guns N’ Roses classic “Welcome to the Jungle” that might be worth the ticket price all by itself.

Underwood talked about the tour and some career highlights with OnMilwaukee in advance of tonight’s performance at Fiserv Forum.

OnMilwaukee: What’s your process for putting together a new album? Do you already have the concept and songs in mind?

Carrie Underwood: With “Denim & Rhinestones,” the only directive was “fun.” We had fun writing it, fun recording it and now we’re having a blast playing it live. Of course, it’s always hard picking the songs that will end up on the album, but I’m really happy with this one.

How do the roadshows differ from “Reflection,” your Las Vegas residency performances?

We get to do a lot of big set pieces in Vegas because we don’t have to pack it up and move it every night, but there are definitely some elements of “Reflection” – like so many talented aerialists featured in the show – that served as inspiration for performances on the “Denim & Rhinestones” tour. I’ve taken inspiration from the Vegas show.

Does the current setlist cover material from your whole career?   

“Denim & Rhinestones” is such a fun album to play live, and we’re having a great time performing the new songs like “Ghost Story,” “Hate My Heart” and “Crazy Angels.” And of course, you’ll hear a lot of the songs you know and love.

Is there a place in the current show for anything from the “My Savior” album? 

There is a moment involving “How Great Thou Art” that has become an important part of our live shows. I felt incredibly blessed to record and put out that album and being able to connect with the audience in that way has been amazing.

You’re contributing a portion of the ticket sales to the Tunnels to Towers Foundation. How did you choose that group?  

This is something we’ve done on our tours for a long time now – it is important to support great causes like Tunnels to Towers.  I love the work they do for veterans and their families, and I’m happy we can shed some light on them.

Can you talk about your “American Idol” experience?

There is a lot going on in addition to preparing to perform songs in front of a live television audience every week, which is the most important thing to focus on. But it’s good training for what’s to come should someone end up having a career as an artist after the show.

You and Joan Jett were electrifying at the 2019 CMA Fest, the pairing of powerful women from different musical genres.  

Getting to perform with Joan has been a real bucket list moment. She’s amazing. The energy of the stadium crowds that night felt so electric, and I really just did my best to soak it all in and be present in that moment.

People in your business can get caught up in all the trappings of success. Have you avoided those pitfalls with a solid marriage and a faith-based upbringing?  

My faith is the backbone of all I do in my life, personally and professionally. It helps put everything in perspective and serves as such a great grounding place for me to turn to.

Do you ever think about how a woman from a small town in Oklahoma auditioned for a reality television show and has since produced music and partaken in different ventures (books, fitness apps, “Sunday Night Football” and more) that millions and millions of people love?  

I will always be so humbled and grateful for the incredible opportunities this career has given me. I think it’s so important not to take anything for granted – which I know is something so many of us have been able to reflect on these past couple of years – because you hold a little tighter to it. I know I certainly have.