In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session Monday (June 6) at the Billboard Country Music Summit in Nashville, superstar Carrie Underwood chatted on subjects ranging from the function and evolution of American Idol to Brad Paisley’s charm and utter lack of punctuality.
But she artfully sidestepped revealing anything about her forthcoming album or the possibility of doing other movies following her acting debut in Soul Surfer earlier this year.
Conference registrants stood and applauded when Underwood came to the stage to take her seat beside Billboard senior chart manager Wade Jessen, who conducted the interview.
First, Jessen wanted to know her thoughts on American Idol, the 2005 edition of which catapulted her to stardom. She noted that today’s contestants can do so much on such social networks as Facebook and Twitter to promote themselves, and she praised the show for allowing fans to choose the kind of music they prefer without going through the filters of record companies and radio.
Moreover, she added, American Idol remains the chief “avenue of discovery” for small-town artists, such as herself, who don’t have access to major entertainment centers.
“[It’s] for people like me … and for [recent winners] Scotty [McCreery] and Lauren [Alaina]. … I was so pleased to see two country [music] people in the finale.” (Both McCreery and Alaina charted country albums in Billboard last week.)
What about the criticism that McCreery was too country? Jessen asked.
“I don’t understand that terminology,” Underwood scoffed. “Everybody’s too something.”
Turning to her own work habits, Underwood said, “I like to know what I’m doing. … My entire goal on Idol was to make enough money to go back to school.”
On the subject of co-hosting the CMA Awards show with Brad Paisley, Underwood observed, “I’m the Teleprompter reader. He’s the I-don’t-know-what-he’s-going-to-say kind of guy.”
After Jessen asked about her “I Told You So” duet with Randy Travis on Idol and his invitation in 2008 for her to join the Grand Ole Opry, she said she and Travis had recorded another duet for his new album.
Gaining membership in the Opry was one of her big goals, she admitted.
“I kissed major butt [to achieve that],” she said. “I like to think that there are several of us introducing the Opry to a new generation.”
Underwood said she continues to co-write songs with a variety of other songwriters but has limitations about when and where to write.
“I don’t know how people write on the road,” she marveled. “When I’m on tour, I’m on tour. … I don’t multi-task well.”
When Jessen asked her about achieving balance in the kinds of songs she records so as not to be “too heavy” on love songs or male-bashing songs, she interrupted him to ask archly (and comically), “Can you really be too heavy on the male bashing song?”
In response to another question, Underwood said that at some point in her career she’d like to record a gospel album of traditional hymns and perhaps a Christmas album.
“To me, it’s the perfect song,” she said. That declaration drew a round of applause from the audience.
Did she feel the same about singing the national anthem? Jessen inquired.
“The national anthem is a scary one,” Underwood acknowledged. “I definitely pick and choose where I do that.”
She told Jessen she’s meticulous about punctuality. “It actually frightens people that I’m on time,” she laughed. “I want to be on time. I want to be prepared.”
Not so for one of her most famous colleagues, she revealed.
“Let me tell you about Brad Paisley,” she said breathily. “Brad is not on time. Ever. … I always say, ’Waitin’ on a Woman’ ? Yeah, right! It’s ’Waitin’ on Brad.'”
As an example, she told the story behind recording “Remind Me,” their duet for Paisley’s new album, This Is Country Music. She said the two of them had discussed recording a duet but couldn’t arrange their schedules to do it before the December deadline for the album’s completion.
Paisley again called her in February about doing a duet. He still hadn’t finished the album. In fact, he hadn’t even completed the song. But he sent her a work tape of a rudimentary version of the song in which Sheryl Crow was singing Underwood’s part.
“It still had few words and a lot of mumbling,” she recalled. And so it went, back and forth, right up to the day of recording.
“This was the most unorganized thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “But I was so excited by the song when the words came together.”
Her ultimate assessment of Paisley, whom she met when he asked her to help open a tour for him, is, “He’s just a nice guy. You cannot not like Brad Paisley.”
She said she accepted a role in the inspirational movie Soul Surfer because, after reading the script, “I had to be a part of telling that story.”
She was coy, however, when Jessen asked if there were other movie roles on her horizon. Instead of a yes or no, she responded, “I just take my opportunities as they come.”
She was similarly murky about her next album.
“It’s really in its earliest stages,” she said. “There’s nothing locked in.”
It wasn’t until the interview neared its end that Underwood alluded to her husband, professional hockey player Mike Fisher. She acknowledged she got some bad press in Canada when Fisher was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Nashville Predators. But she assured the audience that causing such sports tremors was way beyond her powers.
She did concede that love has turned her into a “sentimental weenie.” But, she added, “I have improved his hockey game not one iota.”