A typical show day for Carrie Underwood involves a lot more than music. The country songstress has to run a nearly 12-hour gauntlet of interviews, sound checks and rehearsals, makeup and costume preparation, and meet-and-greets, all before she even gets in front of an audience.
"I love being a headlining act, but being an opener was a heck of a lot easier," Ms. Underwood says with a laugh. "Now we're the first ones at the arena and last ones to leave."
"There are a lot of obligations, lot of people to talk to," she says. "I'm a shy person by nature. I'm not so great at talking. I make awkward moments even more awkward most of the time. I totally enjoy and love to meet different folks from all over -- but finally getting on stage is the most fun part of it all."
The 29-year-old Oklahoman, "American Idol" winner and country superstar is touring to support her latest album, "Blown Away." The record has proved another massive platinum-selling success for Ms. Underwood, who just received a pair of Grammy nominations for the LP and added two more American Country Awards -- for female artist of the year and single of the year -- bringing her total to a record 11 ACAs.
Given her growing status, her current tour has raised the ante in terms of an elaborate stage show and high-wire production.
"We started months before, probably six months before we got out on the road brainstorming and planning," she says.
Ms. Underwood says she would "be happy to get up on a stage with nothing but my band and microphone, and I would like to do that sometime, do some more acoustic, intimate shows. But right now while I'm young, while I don't have any children and while we're able to go around and travel like we do, the feeling is let's just do it big."
Mostly, she has been wowing people with her songs. "Blown Away" marks a progression in terms of both writing and production, which seems to be a reflection of her growing confidence. "Of course, as an artist you want to keep growing and keep moving forward," she says. "I don't want to make an album that sounds like any of my other albums. I want to keep things interesting for myself as well as for the audience."
Her success allowed her to take more time crafting the record. "The fact that it was my fourth album kind of took some pressure off. I know I've been so lucky and am so thankful for everything that's happened. But I wanted to take that opportunity to go in and make an album that I love every single second of and spend more time making it perfect. Being able to write for a week and step away and do something different, then go back to the material -- I think it consistently produced better songs."
One thing she hasn't done is tailor her work for the pop market. While she has an across-the-board appeal, she has remained rooted in a solid country aesthetic. "My goal is to make country music that everyone can like," she says. "Songs that I would want to hear, that I'd be into. But I'm not chasing after something. I feel like I have a little more integrity for doing it the way I do. I don't think I could do it any other way."
That's not to say that Ms. Underwood hasn't explored other genres or collaborations outside Nashville. She's sung with Tony Bennett and did a duet with Aerosmith on its new album. "I feel like I get my opportunities to branch out -- but it's not forced, and it's not contrived."
In addition to continuing the "Blown Away" tour well into 2013, Ms. Underwood is planning to play Maria Von Trapp in a live TV version of "The Sound of Music" for NBC. She adds that she might cut a gospel album, and do some smaller theater tours after that.
"I'll be seeing what comes up and what projects are available. For me, it's really about doing stuff that seems fun or interesting."
First Published December 24, 2012 5:00 AM