Carrie Underwood gets her makeup touched up before posing for fan pictures… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Carrie Underwood stands in a nearly deserted Staples Center concourse while a dozen or so workers line up floor seats inside the arena that in five hours will be filled to capacity with screaming fans. None of the workers takes eyes off their task as Underwood, with a small camera crew in tow, strolls toward the area typically reserved for ticket holders. It's shortly after 3 p.m. and the singer's makeup is flawless, her blond curls fall perfectly down her back and her smile is bright. The 29-year-old is the definition of poise as she invites us along for a glimpse of the leading up to her show.
With many more stops to go on her global "Blown Away" tour — extended just this week well into 2013 and her first to include dates in Europe and Australia — Underwood takes time before her Oct. 16 concert to film a segment for "All Access Nashville," a special edition of "20/20" that teased Thursday's 46th Annual Country Music Assn. Awards on ABC. She will host the ceremony for a fifth time with fellow country star Brad Paisley.
Underwood is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in country music, but the Muskogee, Okla., native is the first to remind you there was a time when she was looking for her big break and tried out for "American Idol" for no better reason than "why not?" She won the show's fourth season in 2005.
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"I thought, if they cut me in the first round no one will ever know," she recalls later in her dressing room. "And if they let me through, who knows?"
With millions of albums sold and a mantel cluttered with trophies — she's the only "Idol" alum to boast a new artist Grammy — Underwood has cemented herself as the show's most successful winner, next to inaugural champ Kelly Clarkson, of course. She also represents the last victor to obtain the breadth of commercial success that has lured hopefuls to the aging Fox competition show for more than a decade. It's hard not to wonder, will "Idol" ever find a star this big again?
"This time eight years ago I was trying out [for 'Idol']," Underwood says between shots for the "All Access Nashville" segment. "It was my first plane ride. It's in Season 12 now — that's crazy. With something like 'Idol,' everybody is getting up there 'as is,' and if they can sing then you know they can actually sing. I hope this season comes out with an amazing winner and or runner-up who can just really go out and show us how it's done. The females," she says with a laugh, "are the one who seem to do better afterward."
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"This is the part I never get to see," Underwood jokes as she's ushered through the concourse, which is littered with merchandise branded with her face. There are T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, iPhone cases, keychains, posters and tote bags — all with her smile front and center.
"There's so much stuff we have to do to get onstage. We sleep on buses, we're at the mercy of whatever hotel we're at, it's a weird life that we lead. But being onstage is the best part."
Her eight-piece band — including three guitar players brave enough to fly over the crowd with Underwood on a glass-bottomed mini-stage night after night — cues up the show's opener, "Good Girl," and Underwood saunters onstage for sound check. She quickly runs through the number in front of an audience of four that includes this reporter and a janitor as workers in the back of the arena sweep and clean between the newly erected floor seats. "Sounds good," she offers before she exits after just the one song. Since May she's run through the show in 27 different cities over four countries. L.A. is show No. 29.
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"There are artists who go on what I call 'perma-tour' because it seems like they are always on tour even if they are weekend-warrior types," she says, even though she won't be off the road until May for this tour. "It's all year, every year. I don't really do that."
At the same time, she adds when asked how her 2010 marriage to hockey player Mike Fisher changed her career, "I'm not used to having to check with somebody. It was an interesting adjustment for me to have somebody else in my life who I have to consider."
Underwood's costumes are being hand steamed before showtime as the singer relaxes on her tour bus, which serves as her dressing room. There, as she's done for all of her tours, she typically does her own hair and makeup (today is an exception because of the ABC taping), has dinner (a vegan for years, she dines this early evening on a meat-substitute hot dog) and plays with her dogs, Ace, a rat terrier, and Penny, a dachshund mix, who will later be seen being walked by a handler backstage.
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