100 Greatest Women


Carrie Underwood

With a voice that could’ve made her a legend in any era of country music, Carrie Underwood has quickly become the most successful female country of the decade.

Her breakthrough came through the biggest show on television, American Idol. She was one of thousands who auditioned for season four and by that point, the show had established itself more as a ratings winner than a record seller. Previous winners Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia released debut albums that sold respectably, but nothing on a scale that would seem to match the ratings success.

Enter Carrie Underwood. When she auditioned with the Bonnie Raitt classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, the tone of her voice signaled her country leanings. Throughout the Idol season, she built a fan base quickly. The belief was that it was the year of the guys, but after she performed Heart’s “Alone” on the Top 11 show, judge Simon Cowell made a bold prediction: “You’ll not only win this show, you’ll go on to sell more records than any previous Idol winner.”

She did go on to win the show, never even visiting the bottom three. But along the way, she made clear that country music was what she wanted to perform, and demonstrated a depth of knowledge that included Martina McBride songs “Independence Day” and “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues”, Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road.” She even had the gumption to cover the raunchy Dixie Chicks cut “Sin Wagon”, leaving the “mattress dancin'” line intact.

After her win, she released the obligatory post-victory single, a pop ballad called “Inside Your Heaven.” Strong sales made it a #1 pop hit, but country radio showed some interest as well, giving it moderate airplay. When she released her first real single, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, radio jumped on it immediately. It entered at #39 and rapidly rose to the top, spending 6 weeks at #1.

The success of that single was a strong beginning for her debut album, Some Hearts, which would eventually sell more than seven million copies. She took home ACM trophies in 2007 for Top New Female Vocalist and Single for “Wheel.” Her next release, “Don’t Forget to Remember Me”, went to #2.

Then her label released “Before He Cheats”, and amazingly enough, it was a bigger hit than “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” It not only topped the country singles chart, but got massive crossover airplay, too. Awards began to roll in, with a shocked Underwood receiving the CMA award for Female Vocalist, along with Horizon Award. Underwood was only the fourth act to win both the Horizon and their vocalist race in the same year, following Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss and the Dixie Chicks.

Underwood also picked up two Grammys three months later, including Best New Artist. “Wasted” became another #1 hit, and her charity single “I’ll Stand By You” sold so well that it entered the top ten of the pop singles chart the week it was released.

Obviously, the pressure was on to follow up her debut album. Carnival Ride featured a more country sound and several songs co-written by Carrie herself. The first two singles, “So Small” and “All-American Girl” both went #1. Along the way, she repeated as CMA’s Female Vocalist while winning Single of the Year for “Before He Cheats.” That hit also netted her a third Grammy in just two years.

As this is being written, the third single from Carnival Ride, “Last Name”, is already in the top ten. Underwood is the most-played and top-selling female artist in country music today, after only two albums. She was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry cast early this year, further solidifying her country bona fides. Given her widespread appeal and undeniable vocal prowess, the possibilities for her future seem limitless.

Carrie Underwood

Essential Singles

  • “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, 2005
  • “Before He Cheats”, 2006
  • “Wasted”, 2007
  • “I’ll Stand By You”, 2007
  • “All-American Girl”, 2007

Essential Albums

  • Some Hearts (2005)
  • Carnival Ride (2007)

Industry Awards

  • ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 2006
  • ACM Single – “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, 2006
  • ACM Top Female Vocalist, 2007 & 2008
  • ACM Album – Some Hearts, 2007
  • ACM Video – “Before He Cheats”, 2007
  • CMA Horizon Award, 2006
  • CMA Female Vocalist, 2006 & 2007
  • CMA Single – Before He Cheats”, 2007
  • Grammy: Best New Artist, 2007
  • Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”), 2007
  • Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Before He Cheats”), 2008

==> #58. Jan Howard

<== #60. k.d. lang

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List