Carrie Underwood is now a well-known name in the music industry, with more than 100 major awards to her name and a plethora of top country hits. Before her meteoric rise to fame, however, Carrie got her start by auditioning for season four of American Idol in 2005.
Below we break down the “Before He Cheats” singer’s journey on the show, from her adorable first audition to her numerous performances to her unforgettable win.
The audition that started it all
Carrie’s American Idol journey began after she convinced her mother, Carole Underwood, to drive her from their Checotah, Oklahoma hometown to the season four auditions for the show. The then-21-year-old, showed up wearing a simple, off-the-shoulder-pink t-shirt and jeans and also sported her shoulder-length blonde hair in numerous curls, all smiles and as sweet as could be. Although she was visibly nervous, and told judge Randy Jackson she was scared of known tough guy Simon Cowell, she beautifully belted out Bonnie Raitt‘s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” much the judges’ — which also included Paula Abdul — delight. She was given the golden ticket to Hollywood to continue on in the competition.
After telling Randy her favorite singer was Martina McBride, Simon said, “I was saying to someone the other day, ‘I’m surprised that we haven’t found a good country singer in this competition yet.’” Little did they know what was to come!
“I was so distracted that when Mom and Dad were driving me to the airport to go to Hollywood, I realized I’d forgotten lip liner,” Carrie said of her audition in a 2020 essay for Guideposts. “We stopped at a grocery store, and Mom dashed inside to buy some. All at once, it was just too much. Going out to Los Angeles by myself, competing with all those other people who were so talented. I burst into tears.”
She continued, “My dad turned to me in the backseat. ‘Carrie,’ he said, ‘we can go home right now, and we don’t ever have to talk about it again.’” Lucky for us, the talented performer decided to move forward in the competition!
She was still studying at Northeastern State University while competing
A little known fact about Carrie was that she was still enrolled in school as she took to Idol, studying at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. The singer was studying Mass Communication with an emphasis on Journalism and was considering becoming a news anchor if her music aspirations didn’t pan out.
Even after she claimed her big win, she still finished her schooling, even graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2006!
Carrie takes the ‘Idol’ stage
After a successful audition, Carrie took to the stage with a slew of dazzling performances, singing songs like “Piece of My Heart,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Love is a Battlefield,” and more.
Luckily for Carrie, the hard-nosed Simon seemed to be in her corner from the beginning, commenting that she was one of his favorites to win the competition after she sang “Could’ve Been” by Tiffany during the top 12 girls’ night. Moreover, during the top 11 finalists’ performances, after Carrie performed Heart’s “Alone,” the British judge predicted she would not only win the competition overall, but become one of the best-selling Idol winners.
It wasn’t just Simon who was seriously smitten with Carrie. One of the show’s producers later said she dominated the voting every week, often winning by a long shot. In addition, even as an Idol contestant she gained a huge fan based that called themselves “Carrie’s Care Bears.”
Her epic win
On May 25, 2005, during the final episode of season four, Carrie dazzled all her fans and the panel judges with her rendition of Rascal Flatts‘ “Bless the Broken Road.” Then, as the audience waited with bated breath, Carrie was overcome with joy and excitement when she won the competition, beating out the country rock singer Bo Bice.
Not only did Carrie snag the winning spot of the competition, she walked away with recording contract worth at least $1 million, a private jet to use at her disposal for one year, plus a Ford Mustang convertible. Not a bad deal!
Her journey forward
Following her big win on the Idol stage, Carrie went on to become a massive success. Just a few months after becoming the season four champion, Carrie released her debut album Some Hearts, which became a huge hit. Since then, the Oklahoma native went on to win over 100 major awards, including seven GRAMMYs, 15 ACM awards, 23 CMT Music Awards, seven CMAs, and 17 American Music Awards.
With major hits like “Jesus Take the Wheel, “Before He Cheats,” and “Two Black Cadillacs,” Carrie proved she wasn’t just another Idol contestant, going on to become one of the biggest country music stars as well as a New York Times best-selling author and entrepreneur. In addition, her Las Vegas residency REFLECTION began in Dec. 2021 with a sold-out run, positioning her as one of the top performers of our time.