"Oh, Jesus take the wheel/ Oh, I'm letting go/ so give me one more chance/ save me from this road I'm on/ from this road I'm on/ Jesus take the wheel/ Oh, take it, take it from me/ Oh, why, oh." - Jesus Take The Wheel - Hilary Lindsay- Brett James-Gordie Sampson.

This is a story of two cultures where rewards are stark contrasts.

Carrie Underwood is an Oklahoma belle who defied the odds, winning pop reality TV show, American Idol - because of her raw talent and voice.

Her victory was unique - she cracked the mould as a country singer.

Despite healthy aversion to reality TV, I chanced on Carrie, now 23, who landed a deal with Arista.

The Checotah chanteuse's fairy tale peaked as debut disc Some Hearts (Arista-Sony-BMG) hit #1 on Billboard rock charts and topped country sales for 8 weeks with two million plus sales.

Now, with five million albums sold in 14 months making it 2006's third best-selling album of any genre, Underwood is hot.

So she is recording her second album that will showcase her writing and prompt more high profile tours.

And she has been nominated for two Grammies in March this year.

Underwood enjoyed high-profile producers Dann Huff (Faith Hill, Lonestar and Keith Urban) and Mark Bright (Rascal Flatts and Jo Dee Messina) on her debut disc.

Carrie's anthemic debut Jesus, Take The Wheel - a song of faith and triumph - soared to chart tops.

It told of a young woman, baby in the back seat, was 50 miles from her parents' home when she was returning home for a white Christmas.

But the young mother, low on petrol and faith, hits road ice and begins to skid so she pleads to Jesus to take the wheel.

Now, if it had been a western swing song, she may have made her plea to Ray Benson so she wouldn't die Asleep At The Wheel.

But it wasn't and it became her debut smash hit - vindicating her win over rock and pop acts in the TV talent quest and the immediate success with her debut album.


"Where 69 meets 40, there's a single stop light town/ and back when I was really young, a part of that burned down/ on any given Friday night, we'd drive a hundred miles/ between the Sonic and the Grocery Store/ laughing all the while, with as many friends as I could pack/ in my daddy's Ford, but I ain't in Checotah anymore." - Carrie Underwood-Trey Bruce-Angelo.

Autobiographical I Ain't In Checotah Anymore - penned with seasoned songsmiths Trey Bruce, son of veteran writers Ed and Patsy, and Angelo - is her only original.

Angelo wrote Starts With Goodbye with Hilary Lindsey who penned Carrie's debut hit with Brett James and Gordie Sampson.

But Underwood also portrays a valiant victim in a triangle by meting summary justice with a Louisville Slugger to a vixen in Before He Cheats - her third smash single to be accompanied by a video clip.

The single was #1 for five weeks, spent another five weeks in the Top 5 and another five in the Top 10.

Underwood's youthful exuberance prevails from assertive entrée Wasted - "I don't want to spend my life jaded, waiting."


"Before you hit the highway/ you better stop for gas/ there's a 50 in ashtray/ in case you run short on cash/ here's a map and here's a Bible/ if you ever lose your way." - Don't Forget To Remember Me - Ashley Gorley-Kelley Lovelace-Morgane Hayes.

It segues into Don't Forget to Remember Me - tale of an 18-year-old who invades the big city with a map, Bible and $50 bill from mama.

The sentiments are reminiscent of Catherine Britt's Too Far Gone - mixed sentiments of homesickness in her success struggle.

And, of course, it was also an huge hit.

Carrie exudes credible passion - from ruptured romance in Just Can't Live A Lie and Starts With Goodbye to hedonistic We're Young And Beautiful.

There's suffice pedal steel, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, cello, violin and viola but nothing to frighten radio horses.

Country writers penned most songs but the title track, Lessons Learned and Whenever You Remember came from Dianne Warren's ballad factory.


"Right now he's probably slow dancing with a bleached-blond tramp/ and she's probably getting frisky/ right now, he's probably buying her some fruity little drink cause she can't shoot whiskey/ right now, he's probably up behind her with a pool-stick, showing her how to shoot a combo/ and he don't know/ that I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive/ carved my name into his leather seat/ I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights/ slashed a hole in all 4 tyres/ and maybe next time he'll think before he cheats." - Before He Cheats - Chris Tompkins-Josh Kear.

Underwood's success was accelerated by controversy on the internationally televised CMA Awards in November.

And all because the TV cameras backstage zeroed in on Mississippi born belle Faith Hill when Carrie was voted best female vocalist.

Underwood also beat Sara Evans, Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson for the long coveted award.

Hill was caught making a mock shock gesture backstage when Underwood's win was announced.

She quickly issued a statement explaining that she was just joking when she frowned and threw her hands up in the air after Underwood's name was announced.

"I knew she didn't mean it," Carrie said of Hill who shares the same producer - Dan Huff.

"So she called me immediately and said, 'It's no big deal. I'm so sorry. I was just messing around, and it was sort of a joke gone bad, and I would never disrespect you.'

Underwood was caught off guard by the media reaction.

"I was definitely surprised at how everything happened after the CMAs as far as the Faith Hill incident goes," Underwood added.

"I mainly was just saddened because I knew it was going to be a big thing for her. I knew she didn't mean it. I think Tim McGraw was sitting at home watching, and as soon as she did that, I think he called her. And she's always been so nice. She and Tim have always been really sweet to me. I had no reason not to believe her. And I said, 'Thank you. It means a lot to me that you called, and I really, really respect you for calling as soon as possible to make things right, but I'm sorry for whatever's about to happen.'"

During the awards show, Underwood was unaware of Hill's joke.

"Obviously, I was sitting in the audience," she said.

"I didn't see what happened - like everybody did at home - so I did go to look it up afterwards just to see exactly what happened. I would've thought she was joking, but I guess I could see where people like my fans who were really protective of me, which is really awesome would think she was being disrespectful. I just felt really bad for her that she was just messing around back stage and it kind of got taken out of context."


"I'm in a world so wide/ It makes me feel small sometimes/ I miss the big blue skies,
the Oklahoma kind/ where the Wildcats beat the Ironheads/ Old Settler's day and the Okrafest/ after prom, down at the bowling lanes/ catching crappy fish in Eufaula lake/
I ain't in Checotah anymore." I Ain't In Checotah Anymore - Carrie Underwood-Trey Bruce-Angelo.

Underwood says the CMA Awards fracas was nowhere as stressful as her American Idol days.

"That's a whole other kind of dues, you know?" she said.

"And that's a whole other kind of stress. You know, I'll be the first person to say I don't deserve to be where I am. I am so, so lucky to be where I am, and I'm so thankful every single day that all this wonderful stuff has happened to me, but I definitely went through a different kind of 'dues-paying' portion of my life - and that was called American Idol."

She described her American Idol experience as "absolutely the most stressful, intense time in my life."

"But also it was absolutely wonderful, and it landed me where I am here now. It was so completely worth it, but people have their opinions. And if that's the way they feel about it, that's fine, but I'm really glad I'm here.

"It is really stressful going from nobody really paying attention to you to all of the sudden millions of people out there. Not only are they listening to you sing and critiquing you, you've got to stand up there in front of the judges, and they could potentially say something completely embarrassing. All your friends are watching. All your family is watching back home. Nobody has to deal with that kind of scrutiny. And, also, people are looking at what you're wearing, what you look like and things like that. It's kind of hard to just be thrown into that kind of criticism."


Carrie is now famous enough to be romantically linked with other celebrities.

She says her success has resulted in false rumours including the report that she's dating Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

"I have read some of the most ridiculous things about that," Underwood revealed.

"The first time I ever met him was on Christmas, right there on the field. Everybody was like, 'Ooh, they are together.' And then I was blamed for Dallas not winning that game. He is a very nice guy and I've talked to him a few times, but we are very much not together."

An Illinois newspaper reported that Tony said it was true that the two were dating. Her publicist, who says Carrie is not dating anyone, presumes Romo was joking. "That was one person from one local newspaper that said that, so whether or not,"

Carrie says.

"I've read 'sources said' we met on Thanksgiving. I had no clue who he was at that time.

He is probably getting a little tired of that one (the false rumour he was dating Jessica Simpson) and now he's probably tired of this one, as I am."

She says the press has also incorrectly reported on her weight loss and products she uses. For the record, she now weighs 110 pounds, down from 125-130 pounds during her American Idol days.

There hasn't been a rumour bad enough for her to proactively correct, and she now has a Web site to communicate directly with fans.

"It's really strange to read things about yourself because 90 percent of the time they are not true," she said.

"But I am getting more used to it. The exposure is never bad, but it's really interesting to pick up a magazine and they are critiquing something or sources say, 'A pal says.' I don't have that many pals, and any pals I have wouldn't really talk to people about my personal life."

With five million album sales and huge grossing tours this is small-spuds for the girl from Okie town Checotah.

Well, there will be a street named after her, maybe name on the water tower and at her old high school.

Yes, Carrie's not in Checota Anymore.

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