Jeff Johnson – Road Crew:
Carrie Underwood backstage at her 2019 Cry Pretty Tour, which began in May 1, 2019 and included sellouts at NYC’s Madison Square Garden, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and L.A.’s Staples Center.
Carrie Underwood is 2/3 of the way through a “Cry Pretty 360 Tour” SRO sweep of LA’s Staples Center, NYC’s Madison Square Garden and Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, selling them all out with – insanity! – an all-female tour at a time when women barely get played on country radio. With Miranda Lambert also mounting an all-female tour this season, sisters are indeed doing it for themselves …
As the only woman nominated for Entertainer of the Year at the “53rd Annual Country Music Association Awards,” Underwood would become only the 8th woman in history to take country music’s biggest prize. And in the dozen years Underwood has served as “CMA Awards” host, a job she reprises in 2019 with single-name moniker Dolly and Reba, only the ubiquitous Taylor Swift has taken home EotY.
Taking time from the endless cycle of meetings, mothering and travel, Underwood checked in with Pollstar about her drive, a woman’s place in country music, raw physicality and why she wants to take home Entertainer of the Year.
Pollstar: You are one physical performer!
Carrie Underwood: (laughing) A lot of the songs are vocally challenging, but I like pushing myself. Going onstage and giving my all gives me something I can’t get anywhere else. It’s a rush to really go for those notes and be in the moment.
You’re almost doubled over in places, almost Etta James-ian.
I definitely use my whole body (more laughter). I have involuntary body spasms when I sing, which is funny because I don’t realize it when I’m actually singing. When I look back at performances on TV, and I didn’t realize, it sort of catches you.
That’s good, though. Right?
Of course! When you do, it becomes awkward. If I think about it, I notice my limbs. Then it’s a whole mind game. My best performances are when I’m lost in the songs. Just surrender to the music, really throw yourself into it. My husband (Mike Fisher, retired superstar of the NHL’s Nashville Predators) talks about it, too. How when he goes out to play hockey, it’s always best when he’s just in the zone.
It’s harder to achieve than people think. Especially with all that production.
I think it always ends up best when you can. I can’t really do (choreography). Any time I’ve tried, it’s never felt right – and the vocals suffer. There are certain places you have to be for certain things, sure, but that just happens.
Being super natural and not involving your brain (to count steps), your body will take you there. The singing, the music, it will move you. Then it becomes a place of joy! I’m doing what I was born to do.
You have lots of everything. Lots! And the songs cover a lot of ground, too. You’ve got 27 No. 1s and however many almost chart-toppers and the new Cry Pretty project is nominated for an Album of the Year CMA. How do you fit it all in a show?
That was the biggest challenge: what do we play? I was super-pregnant when we were discussing all those things. What were we going to put in, cut – and the decision was ‘As much music as possible.’ That’s important to me.
We mashed up some songs, shortened a few. At the end of the day, it comes down to the body of work. You can second guess yourself: “Oh, no. Should I be singing so much about Jesus?” That’s the devil saying that. Just like the idea of “She’s singing cheating songs and Jesus songs?” But that’s kind of how it works. So, we put different songs in different sections for a reason; give it a tone, bring people up, have fun, get to the meat, inspire.
Well, your production is unbelievable. The rhinestones, lights, pyro – that’s all part of it.
Instead of it just being about the instruments, because I have a great band, and you’ve seen how they’re all so close to the audience, or the tempo, or the lighting, it’s about everything.
You’ve been selling major arenas out with an all-female bill instead of who’s hot on radio.
People have really reacted to this tour, which is a nice surprise and a breath of fresh air. We didn’t know, but it felt like something I should do as a woman who could sell the tickets. Maddie & Tae and Runaway June are different enough, so there’s this sense of discovery. People are coming early to see them, see these ladies who’re holding their own. We have a lot of Mommy/daughters, a lot of girls’ night out groups, but there are a lot of men bringing their girls. We’re doing it in a fun way! And it’s a family show.
Jo Hale / Redferns – Let’s Get Physical:
Carrie Underwood, who says she uses her “whole body” when she performs, on stage at The SSE Arena, Wembley on July 4, 2019, in London.
People tell me, “It’s important for (young women) to know that it is possible to do this.”
Crazy, isn’t it? We grew up with so many classy, smart, talented women to look up to. When the girls come back and we do the medley, that’s the Tammy, Loretta, Reba, the Judds, Faith Hill, Shania, Martina and so many more… and it’s the tip of the iceberg.
Speaking of icebergs … Entertainer of the Year.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want it or it’s an honor to be nominated. I’m competitive and committed to what we do. But you know that award is about so much more than me. It’s about my team, all the people who work so hard with me – from the label to the road people, the musicians, the songwriters, my management, even the fans because it’s their award, too. I see the fans coming to multiple shows, calling the radio stations, trying to find the music.
I could say, “I’m just doing this for the fans,” because there’s a lot of truth in that. And I’d rather be the person who doesn’t win, but should. But I look at the things that go into it: performances, album, tour, vocals, the songs. I want to be the person who truly excels at all those things.
Why is it so much harder for women to win Entertainer? They always talk about ticket sales, and you’re certainly selling out Staples Center on a Thursday, Madison Square Garden on a Wednesday… Tough nights.
Well, I’m bad at campaigning. It feels icky to say, “Vote for ME!” I don’t like to do stuff like that. Other people might do it, and it feels right for them. I think this stuff has to work for who you are…
But it’s everything. I feel that when I see the difference between men and women, I realize it’s not just me. I look at Runaway June with “Buy My Own Drinks” going up the chart, and it should’ve gone faster and higher looking at what’s around it. It’s fresh, and it pops out. But they’re three girls.
And there are three girls hosting this year’s CMA Awards, too!
And they don’t even need last names! Dolly and Reba are so recognized, they’ve reached that plateau where that’s all they need! So it kinda feels like one of those, “Look Ma! I made it” moments. I mean, growing up in Oklahoma, I never thought I’d go to the CMA Awards, let alone be nominated, or perform, or host.
Or win a whole lot of them!
And now, it’s these two legendary women? We definitely had to go back to the drawing board, tear everything up, because we’re really excited about this year.
And it’s very in step with all the conversation around gender, country music and the fact that you’ve been very quietly putting women front and center.
We’re doing all we can. Nobody can say we aren’t doing everything we possibly could. Trying to get people to change something just to change it is never easy. Miranda’s doing an all-woman tour that’s completely different from “Cry Pretty 360”– and that says something, too, about the depth and different kinds of women.
I look at all these little girls every night, who were just like I was. There were so many strong, smart talented ladies who helped us believe we could do this. But who do those little girls have? Or who do they get to hear on their radio? So we will keep showing up, showing these artists and people will see it and react.