Carrie Underwood: On Faith Hill and Paying Dues

"I Knew She Didn't Mean It," Grammy Nominee Tells CMT

Editor’s note: See the Carrie Underwood interview during the new episode of CMT Insider premiering Saturday (Dec. 9) at 2 p.m. ET/PT.

“Anybody who tries to say I haven’t paid my dues, I guarantee you, hasn’t been on American Idol,” Carrie Underwood told CMT Insider during a recent interview in Las Vegas.

With two Grammy nominations announced Thursday (Dec. 7), the whirlwind that began last year with Underwood’s American Idol win only got stronger. In addition to a best female country performance nomination for “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” she is the only country artist nominated for best new artist of all musical genres.

With her debut album, Some Hearts, certified quadruple platinum for shipments of 4 million copies, she’s easily the hottest new thing in country music. This week alone, the Oklahoma native teamed with Kenny Rogers to sing “Islands in the Stream” during a tribute to Dolly Parton at the Kennedy Center Honors. The next night, she took home five trophies at the Billboard Music Awards.

Highlighting Underwood’s year was the CMA Awards show, where she received the Horizon Award, an honor bestowed on artists who make particularly big strides in their careers. More surprising, perhaps, was her win in the female vocalist category that also included Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson.

News of Underwood’s female vocalist victory gained even more attention the following day when Hill’s on-camera reaction hit the Internet and national television news programs. Hill 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.

In the interview with CMT Insider’s Laura Douglas, Underwood spoke at length about the controversy.

“I was definitely surprised at how everything happened after the CMAs as far as the Faith Hill incident goes,” Underwood said. “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 was like, ’This is gonna be bad.’ 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.’

“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.”

When asked if detractors have tried to make her feel as though her massive success has arrived too quickly, Underwood smiled and explained the intensity involved in participating on American Idol.

“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.”

Describing her American Idol experience as “absolutely the most stressful, intense time in my life,” she adds, “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.”