I had heard of her, of course — as has everybody even loosely connected to the American music scene, since Underwood wound up on top of “American Idol’s” fourth season. That victory set her up as anything but an underdog in the big league music business. She’s garnered one music award after another.
At her “Play On” show, I finally saw — and heard — what all the fuss is about. Listening to Underwood raise the rafters of the sizable venue during “Wasted,” I tried to come up with a contemporary female vocalist with a more powerful set of pipes.
The only other singer who comes close is Celine Dion. Underwood does less sternum-thumping and has more appeal. For one thing, Underwood sings with a surprising measure of ease.
I’d heard the singer/songwriter described as a “girl-next-door,” but that would hold true only if you happen to live in Hollywood or next door to a goddess. Underwood — a wide-eyed blonde with an enviable bod — could not be cuter. And let’s face it, beauty counts for something — as Susan Boyle, a British counterpart proved. (Had Boyle been a knockout from the get-go, her story would not have generated the same emotional appeal.)
Underwood has star quality in spades; and she obviously likes shiny stuff. She underwent several costume changes layered with genius that granted her a total of about 10 glamorous looks — everything from a variation on the tuxedo theme to an amorphous indigo gown that stripped down to pseudo-bib overalls. A billowing floor-length “skirt” served as a screen for projected images. Underwood’s footwear rivaled the shoes of the other Carrie (Bradshaw). Glitter and rhinestones ruled, and even Underwood’s microphone was encrusted with crystals.
But this darling diva outshone all her sparkly clothes and gleaming accessories because Underwood has more than the looks: She’s got the goods. She’s not likely to get busted for lip-synching. Underwood opens up and gives it all, her opera-quality voice an undeniable gift.
Craig Morgan also performed, as did Sons of Sylvia, an impressive band of brothers. This is not your father’s C&W. In fact, given Underwood’s rocking band, I wondered what classifies the music as country. Nodding to a more pure past, Underwood paid homage to the Grand Ole Opry. Via multi-media magic, she performed a duet with her own idol — Randy Travis.
As she rose and descended on stage, swung on a swing, or rode in the back of a suspended blue pickup truck that tracked around the auditorium, the audience unabashedly adored Underwood. When the singer wandered over to the corner of the stage near our seats, she gave a little wave toward the man in the seat behind me who had been hollering, “I love you, Carrie!” intermittently throughout the concert.
“She waved at me!” the man said repeatedly, Carrie-d away under Underwood’s musical spell.
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Brian Carney is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.