HOT DISH: Visiting With Carrie Underwood

American Idol Winner Is Not Letting Major Stardom Go to Her Head

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

If Carrie Underwood is the least bit concerned about the state of the music biz, she never seems to let on. During a recent gathering with a few media folks, Carrie was all smiles in a short royal blue dress. Her eyes sparkled, and her heels were high.

The country music headliner won the American Idol competition in 2005, and her debut CD sold 7 million copies, but Carrie Underwood is the most down to earth of all the country girl singers. If the Checotah, Okla., star has an ego, it does not show. Why, she even remembered me teaching her to shake hands when she first came to Nashville with a wimpy handshake and a dream after winning American Idol.

Carrie was well rested when we sat down with her in the green room at the Grand Ole Opry House, although we ended in dressing room No. 1, the one used for years by the late Roy Acuff. She and Ann Edelblute, her day-to-day manager with 19 Management, had just returned from vacationing in France and Italy, specifically Rome. I knew she’d been on vacation, so I thought this meeting of hacks and flaks (only four of us) with Carrie and her PR folks was to announce some big overseas tour. But, no, she just wanted to have some time with some of Nashville’s top mouths. Lord knows, I’ve got a big one.

Carrie is very much an animal lover, so I asked if she still had her dog. Says she has her little doggie, a rat terrier named Ace. She’s totally concerned about those who mistreat animals. She supports neutering cats and dogs, and she is an advocate for animal shelters.

She lived south of Nashville until she bought another house closer to town. Her sister, a single mom who teaches school in the Nashville school system, and niece live in her original place. The school is five minutes from where Carrie lives.

What’s the best part of show biz?

“Going home,” Carrie allowed between bites of salad.

“Meaning Nashville?” someone asked. Her eyes lit up when she replied, “Yes, Nashville is home.”

Her first car, a graduation gift from her parents, is a 2000 Mustang with 70,000-plus miles. It now belongs to her nephew who plans to move to Tennessee to attend college near Nashville. Carrie likes having family close by. By the way, she still drives the red Mustang presented to her when she was named American Idol, but with her hectic schedule, it still only has 16,000 miles on it.

When we spoke, she was looking forward to heading to New York City to perform on the Stand Up to Cancer television special that aired Friday (Sept. 5). Carrie was proud to be a part of America’s fight against cancer. She and LeAnn Rimes, the only country artists, joined Miley Cyrus, Beyonc√©, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Melissa Etheridge and a slate of others on the program that was broadcast on all three major TV networks.

Carrie, who was born in 1983, admits to feeling like she’s 15 going on 25. She’s been on a rollercoaster ride continuously for three years, and it doesn’t seem like it’s about to slow down. She’s constantly busy.

Nobody mentioned her romantic life, but she laughed when I teased her about Kenny Chesney being so cute.

“You know, men sweat more than women,” laughed Carrie. “I don’t sweat. But when I was opening shows for Kenny, he would be drenched when the show ended. He’d hug me, and I’d get all wet from Kenny’s sweat. And I’d think about all those girls down front who’d really like to get some Kenny sweat on them.”

Politicians Want Songs About America
Brooks & Dunn had a hit with “Only in America,” a song co-written by Kix Brooks, Don Cook and Ronnie Rogers. The song was played four years ago at the Republican National Convention and this year at the Democratic National Convention. As the line about “one just might be president” was played, Sen. Barack Obama’s wife Michelle and their two daughters walked onto the stage in Denver.

Singing “Our America” a cappella at the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul was a reach for Gretchen Wilson while John Rich, wearing a red coat, hung on in harmony while Cowboy Troy interspersed the Pledge of Allegiance. Rich then grabbed his guitar and followed with “Raisin’ McCain,” the song he’d written for presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. Rich did not mention Johnny Cash this time.

Well, the candidates are chosen. If only we can survive the next few months of hatred and lies from the mouths of our nation’s politicians and their cohorts. The Democrats hate the Republicans, the Republicans hate the Democrats, yet they all get drunk together — sort of like an awards show.

Those Smart Rascal Flatts Boys
Rascal Flatts proved again they’re no dummies. The threesome teamed with the Raycom Sports Network — and their “Bob That Head” will open each telecast of this season’s ACC and SEC college football games. Only a blue zillion young folks watch college games.

It’s No. 1 for Jimmy Wayne!
Jimmy Wayne was in Las Vegas waiting to go onstage at the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon when the magic word reached him that his latest single, “Do You Believe Me Now,” had topped the country chart. An orphan and a runaway, he once attended a dozen different schools in a year, lived on the streets, in the woods and in foster homes, yet he has now scored a big No. 1. Like always, Jimmy still relies on God. His album, also titled Do You Believe Me Now, was released on Aug. 26. Congratulations to the talented Jimmy Wayne — and may he from now on keep looking ahead.

By the way, you can catch my visit with Jimmy when CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith airs Sunday (Sept. 14) at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET/PT. This week’s movie is Funny Farm starring Chevy Chase.

Taylor Made in the UK
Taylor Swift made her first journey to Europe to perform Wednesday (Sept. 3) at a sold-out show at London’s King College. She met UK fans for the first time, as well as the Universal Music Group staff that will be handling the international release of her new album, Fearless, in 2009.

Leaving London, Taylor flew directly to L.A. for the MTV Video Music Awards, where she was nominated for best new artist. From California, she planned to travel to New York to meet up with her tourmates, Rascal Flatts, for Wednesday’s (Sept. 10) announcement of this year’s nominees for the CMA Awards.

How does she keep it all together? Yoga. She does yoga.

Remembering Jerry Reed
Jerry Reed was always kind. He loved to fish with Bobby Bare. I remember walking into the old RCA Studio in Nashville one day and there sat Reed, Bare, Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis and Shel Silverstein. Shel had sent for me. He was producing the other four for Atlantic Records on an album called Old Dogs. I laughed until I cried at those naturally funny men. But last week, I just cried when I heard that Reed had passed away at age 71. Bare and Tillis are all that’s left of that talented crowd. But I thank God for them and their talent. Lord knows, all five of these men individually took country music up to a higher place than it had ever been before.

What’s Kellie Pickler’s Story?
Now who is this new guy Kellie Pickler is keeping company with? Since hockey player Jordin Tootoo is now history, I’d like to know “herstory” today.

Have Faith During the Holidays
Faith Hill is offering fans the opportunity to preorder her Christmas album, Joy to the World, at her official Web site. Arriving in stores Sept. 30, the CD contains 11 tracks, including some holiday classics. However, “A Baby Changes Everything,” the project’s first single, is the most talked-about song. Penned by A-team hitmakers Tim Nichols, Craig Wiseman and K.K. Wiseman, the song may very well become a holiday standard in its own right.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Apple Crunch Deluxe.