It's true that Carrie Underwood sprang to fame as an American Idol winner, but her career needs to be defined in the context of country superstars instead of reality-show contestants. Her millions of records sold, her dozens of awards, her many record-breaking feats on the charts, and her status as one of the most powerful people in the music business all testify to a staying power beyond American Idol. Underwood's debut single, "Inside Your Heaven," hit number one on the country charts in 2005, the first of a dozen country chart-toppers over the course of her career.Underwood grew up in the small town of Checotah, Oklahoma, and began singing with her church at the tender age of three. She performed throughout her childhood, eventually moving on to festival gigs in several states. Along with developing her singing, Underwood learned to play guitar and piano. She graduated from high school as her class salutatorian and majored in mass communication at Northeastern State College with an eye on a career in broadcast journalism, but continued her singing career throughout her studies.Some HeartsAs a senior just a few credits short of her degree, Underwood heard about the auditions for the 2005 season of American Idol. She tried out for the show at the St. Louis, Missouri auditions, and her innocent charm and pure, pretty voice ended up winning her not only a place among the 12 finalists, but the title of 2005's American Idol. Her debut single, "Inside Your Heaven," was released that summer, and she finished recording her debut album after completing the American Idols Live! tour. Some Hearts was released later that fall and became a smash hit, selling over 300,000 copies in its first week and eventually going platinum a whopping seven times. The album's lead single, "Jesus, Take the Wheel," was also a big success, topping Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for six weeks.Acclaim for the album and single spilled over into 2006, when Some Hearts re-entered Billboard's Top Ten after Underwood's appearance on the 2006 American Idol finale. Meanwhile, "Jesus, Take the Wheel" won Single Record of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards (where she also won Top New Female Vocalist); a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association; and Breakthrough Video and Best Female Video at the CMT Awards, making her the only double winner at the event. Despite her hectic career as a country music star -- which included carrying her tour through the fall of 2006 -- Underwood found the time to finish her degree. "Before He Cheats" was released as Underwood's third single late in 2006, and became her third country number one and her fourth total number one hit. That December, she won five Billboard Music Awards: Album of the Year, Top 200 Female Artist of the Year, Female Country Artist, New Country Artist, and Country Album of the Year.5th GearEarly in 2007, Underwood began work on her second album, while "Wasted" became the fourth single taken from Some Hearts; she performed it on an episode of American Idol that March, and the following month it hit number one on the Hot Country Songs Chart. Underwood gathered more accolades by winning two awards at the 2007 CMT Awards -- Video of the Year and Female Video of the Year for "Before He Cheats" -- and taking home two Grammys. She also took home three 2007 ACM Awards in May, which included Album of the Year for Some Hearts and Top Female Vocalist. She made another trip to American Idol late in the month for the sixth season finale, where she sang "I'll Stand by You" to a standing ovation. During the show, Clive Davis recognized Underwood's sextuple-platinum sales; Underwood was the first country artist to sell that many copies of a debut album since LeAnn Rimes did it in 1996. She also appeared on Brad Paisley's album 5th Gear, which was released in June 2006.
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