In the diminishing era of reality TV shows, it’s reassuring to see some stars staying the course, and few can lay claim to having remained as prolific, relevant and, more than anything else, entertaining, than Carrie Underwood.
The winner of American Idol 2005 was raised very much in the rural, Christian-led idyll of Muskogee, Oklahoma — an existence and an education as far as can be imagined from the blinding lights of the stage.
When Underwood released Some Hearts in 2005, it became the biggest-selling female debut country music album in history. A reference to the mass promotion and global power of modern marketing, sure; but more than that a nod to a genuine talent who, in the 17 years since, has gone on to fulfill the promise she clearly had from a young age.
Married to former professional ice hockey player Mike Fisher and with two children, sons Isaiah and Jacob, 39-year-old Underwood’s estimated worth of $150m means she need never step near a microphone again in her life. Ultimately, what keeps her coming back – 2021’s My Saviour was her eighth studio album – is a love of music, songwriting and entertainment; and in country music circles there are few, if any, who do it better.
Q: Where are you, in yourself, right now?
CARRIE: It will soon be 25 years since I first stepped into Capitol Records and auditioned, and if things had been different at the label then I would have had a record deal much earlier than I did. I was very close to getting it, but I can’t help but feel things would have turned out differently, and the way things have gone it has been almost perfect.
The fact that was 25 years is remarkable — I’m not really sure where the time has gone, but staying busy is a big part of staying motivated and creative, and I’ve always looked ahead to the next challenge. Mostly, I am content, I am happy. I feel very lucky.
Q: It must have been difficult to focus on the next challenge when lockdown struck?
CARRIE: Well, the year before Coronavirus hit and stopped everyone from touring, working or anything else, was the busiest year I’ve had in music. We were able to sneak in mini vacations around the things that we were already doing and that’s probably one of the smartest things that we’ve ever done; but it was really busy, so lockdown probably came at a good time when I just needed a break anyway.
When you have two small children, you don’t always really want to go away on holiday anywhere for a couple of weeks. But the good thing is that when you’re on the road and you’re able to fit in a couple of days break in cool places, it’s the best of both worlds.
We call them these little ‘recharge weekends’. So, we got to go to Wyoming, we got to have a girls’ trip in the Hamptons, and like I said, those times are just the times where we get to recharge our batteries.
But yes, lockdown was difficult in the sense of managing the uncertainty. I’ve always been organized and structured, and to suddenly have a situation where everything was unclear, was difficult.
Q: You have become a tremendous author, over time, and it must have been great to see the response to Find Your Path?
CARRIE: Writing, for me, has always been so cathartic. I can’t envisage a time when I’m not writing — and I mean writing for myself, personally, not just having the huge honour of publishing material.
I would always encourage people to put thoughts down on paper — even just daily musings and ideas. Our brains are so full and so chaotic and it’s sometimes very easy to lose focus or perspective in the mass of things we have to deal with on a daily basis.
Find Your Path was really an attempt to help people declutter a lot of what was going on, and by luck it came out last year when Covid hit and really people were searching for order and enlightenment. And I would say being able to get the vast array of information down need to write a book and actually get it finished and released, was one of my greatest achievements.
Q: What comes through in the book is that, very much, you are encouraging people to be themselves.
CARRIE: Yes, sure. I think we all need to be practical, and to work hard to implement healthy things into a busy life and a busy world… but it should be on our terms. That’s the real message — it’s empowerment; it’s taking back control.
I feel like there are so many crazy fad-diets that come out all of the time, where you’ve got people who are telling you to just rearrange your life into something that’s completely unsustainable. It may work for them, but it’s not going to work for everyone.
So, I just explained what I have been doing over the past while and what’s worked for me. I really hope that people can take some of that.
At the real heart of it, and everything, is to remember to take care of yourself.
Q: You’ve discussed the fact that you still get a little starstruck at times. Can that really be true?
CARRIE: I wouldn’t call it starstruck but having respect for your contemporaries is really important, no matter how long you’ve been in the game.
I hosted the Country Music Awards with Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire and I was a little nervous, of course — how could you not be when you’re there with such absolute legends of music? But they helped me so much and they are such the consummate professionals.
I spent many years trying my best to learn from them in the way of country music and as recording artists, though ultimately you realize you have to be your own person and lead out your career in your own way.
Q: You have been credited with bringing a really modern slant to the country music genre. Do you
feel pressure to carry that on?
CARRIE: I don’t feel pressure in that sense, but I know people are looking at me and a number of other country artists in the constant hope we lead things forward and modernize the genre.
I mean, I am a country artist but I bring everything from George Michael to Rage Against The Machine to Aerosmith into my live shows, so I am a log way removed from what people expect, at times, and that’s important to me.
I think when you have so much access to making music, and so many paths that can lead people to create production-quality music even in their own bedrooms, the ability to drive and innovate is there and it’s inevitable.
The industry is no longer driven by record company execs who think they know best — it is an artist-stimulated brand of creativity, and I think that can only be a good thing.
Q: You’ve now been married to Mike for over a decade and are one of showbusiness’s most admired couples. How does that feel? What advice would you give to people in maintaining a long and happy unison?
CARRIE: Like many partners we are always there for one another. I would never suggest I am the best person to give relationship advice or tell you what a marriage should be like, but I guess if you’ve been married for over a decade you must be doing something right.
Like anyone and everyone else, we do have our ups and down, of course. But the ups are amazing and when you have fallouts or disagreements, you know that it’s just caused by stress, being busy or something which just catches you on the hop, at that time.
My best piece of marriage advice would be to make sure that you have your own things separate! My husband and I have separate closets, because I don’t want to see his crap all over the place [laughs]. I think that it’s just a bit important to have those things that are just for you, all to yourself.
Individual space and individual time is important to me. It’s actually where a lot of my creativity comes from, as much as being around people and feeling stimulated that way. Being married doesn’t mean and shouldn’t mean giving up your independence as a person.
Q: How do you cope with the stress of being a 24/7 global star?
CARRIE: My home life is my antidote to what can, at times, feel like a crazy existence.
I am also all about the fitness for so many reasons, but mostly to just take care of myself. Being out on the road when you’re on tour is really hard work and I keep myself strong and healthy by working out.
The songs on my playlist are dependent on how I actually feel on the day that I am in the gym it suits my mood and stimulates me. But I would like to listen to music that is maybe a little heavier than you would expect. But other days, we could be just having a little bit of fun with some 90s throwback stuff. It’s all about mixing things up and making each day, each job, each workout different. I believe that’s the route to staying interested.