Often called the best vocalist of her generation, the most successful American Idol winner in the history of the show, Carrie Underwood’s list of achievements is staggering. From her collection of eight Grammy Awards, recognitions from Billboard and Rolling Stone, to her best-selling lifestyle book “Find Your Path,” the Grand Ole Opry singer-songwriter continues to create critically acclaimed music nearly 20 years into her career.
Underwood returns to Cincinnati on March 2 in support of her ninth album, “Denim & Rhinestones.” With the use of synths and electronic beats, the new effort expands on her country-rock sound, incorporating the nostalgic ’90s pop influences of her youth. I recently had the opportunity to question her about her early years singing in church, her impressive rise to fame and about the inspiration behind her newest music.
Q: Do you have any connections to Cincinnati that I can share?
A: A cool connection I have to Cincinnati is that I sing about it in the first line of “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” “She was driving last Friday on her way to Cincinnati on a snow-white Christmas Eve.” It’s obviously one of the songs that I’m most known for and means the most to me. That line definitely gets a big reaction from the local audience!
Q: You grew up in small-town Oklahoma and, like many vocalists, you started singing at the local church. What’s the role of spirituality in your music?
A: My faith has always played an important role in my life and my career. It means so much to me to be able to infuse spirituality into my music, which I’ve done in every album I’ve recorded and even more so with my holiday album, “My Gift,” and my gospel hymns album, “My Savior,” which celebrates the songs I loved to sing in church growing up. I love that country music embraces faith as it does.
A: I was not only raised knowing the value of hard work to accomplish your goals, but also my life away from the stage is extraordinarily ordinary. Kids can definitely keep you humble because they don’t care what you do. I appreciate every opportunity and accomplishment along the way and will always be grateful for all of it.
Q: Less than two decades after auditioning for American Idol, you’ve met and can collaborate with the best performers in the world. Is there anyone you particularly enjoy hanging out with that you wouldn’t have expected to meet before your rise to fame?
A: I have been so lucky to not only meet so many incredible artists and to have gotten to perform with so many of my heroes – and sheroes – I could have never dared to dream so big. From legends like Loretta, Dolly and Reba, to buddies like Brad Paisley – it’s always a thrill for me. And finally getting to perform with my all-time fave, Axl Rose, and Guns N’ Roses last year was something I’ll never forget.
Q: Your bio reads as a laundry list of nearly every accolade available to country artists. Was there one award or honor in particular that made you realize you’d “made it”?
A: Of course, it’s always an honor to be recognized for your work by your peers. I have to say that the awards that are voted on by the fans are the most special to me. If it wasn’t for them, none of us would have the careers we have. In my case, I owe my entire career to the support of people voting for me and I will always be grateful.
Q: My favorites from “Denim & Rhinestones” are the title track and probably “Wanted Woman.” The instrumentation for both takes me back to the pop music of my childhood in the early ’90s. It’s a twist on what I’m used to from your tunes. What influenced you to expand your sonic palate?
A: I grew up listening to all kinds of music, so my musical taste and influences come from so many different genres. I love that, with “Denim & Rhinestones,” we were able to bring so many different styles to the party. That was really the whole vision behind this album – I just wanted to have fun. We’ve been able to represent every song from the album in some way during the Denim & Rhinestones Tour and it really is just that, a party every night.