Underwood is Carried away by fame

DAVID SCHMEICHEL - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:29 AM ET

It's only been three short years since her American Idol win helped launch country cutie Carrie Underwood into the realm of the megastar.

But that was all the time she needed to (twice) rack up multi-platinum album sales, nab a few high-profile Grammys and become the youngest performer ever inducted into the Grand Old Opry.

Most recently, the overachiever served as co-host of the 2008 Country Music Awards, where she won female vocalist of the year (her third in a row) while manning the podium with pal Brad Paisley.

And while most of us would consider a nomination cause enough for nervousness, Underwood swears the multi-tasking approach -- she also performed her new hit Just a Dream as part of the telecast -- actually made for a much smoother show.

"I think the whole co-hosting thing took the pressure off the other two," says Underwood, 25, from a tour stop in Oregon. "Like when you're nominated, that's something to get nervous about. And right before the award, when they're announcing the nominees, I'm still like, 'Holy crap -- I'm nominated, too! Time to get nervous!'

"But the performance and all that almost took a back seat to the hosting, because for once, I wasn't sitting in the audience going over my song and overthinking every little thing."

In addition to all the love from the Grammys and CMAs, Underwood has been recognized by everyone from Billboard to MTV to the Academy of Country Music. Despite her CMA threepeat, however, she's not planning to pull a Candice Bergen and take her name out of the running next year.

"Um, no," she says with a laugh. "But if I don't win, I'll be fine with that."

Given the career whirlwind she's in -- not to mention all the fun she's having -- it's only fitting that Underwood would want to call her second album Carnival Ride. And the success of the disc -- together with her co-writing credits on three of its four No. 1 singles -- has certainly cemented her spot on the short list of singers who've managed to parlay an Idol win into a career.

Not bad for someone who'd all but given up on her showbiz dreams by the time she graduated high school, enrolling at university to avoid winding up like the rest of the tragic cases who "spend their whole lives chasing something that's never going to happen.

"I don't regret it. I even went back and finished after Idol," says Underwood, who graduated magna cum laude with a degree in mass communications. "It was all just God telling me what he wanted me to do. He laid it out in front of me, and doors started opening. And when that happens, you have to walk through."

Ironically, it was Underwood's sorority sisters who convinced her to take the Idol plunge, and though many remain skeptical about the show, Underwood feels it serves as a reliable pop culture barometer.

"One of the great things about American Idol, for anybody who doubts it, is that people are telling the record industry what they want," she says. "People are saying, 'This is what we want to hear,' as opposed to a bunch of record execs choosing for them."

These days, Underwood remains the definition of a fan favourite, though she keeps herself so busy she rarely has time to contemplate her own success.

"Most of my moments happen, like, at the mall, when somebody comes up to me who's really, really excited," she says. "Then it's like, 'Oh yeah. This is what I do.' "


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