Wednesday, Oct 10 2012 02:44 PM

For artistic direction, Carrie takes the wheel

BY MATT MUNOZ Californian staff writer mmunoz@bakersfield.com

As many of country music's biggest stars find themselves caught in a flurry of artistic distraction, Carrie Underwood has always preferred trusting her instincts.

"I enjoying making country music that everybody can like no matter what genre of music you listen to," said Underwood, who will perform at Rabobank Arena Oct. 18 in support of her latest album, "Blown Away."

Related Info

Carrie Underwood

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: Rabobank Arena, 1001 Truxtun Ave.

Admission: $41.50 to $61.50, plus service charges

Information: 852-7777 or ticketmaster.com

"Find a song, or find a story that you can really get into. I've been asked many times to make alternative versions of my songs, but I know how I grew up, the kind of music that I like and am comfortable singing."

Even seven years after her life-changing win on "American Idol," the performer fans see today isn't that much different from the fresh-faced 21-year-old who charmed Simon Cowell -- save for the multiplatinum success she's enjoyed in the interim. Underwood, 29, locked in to her musical identity as a child growing up in Oklahoma, where country music is part of everyday life.

"We had so much country music on the radio where I lived," said Underwood, who was proud to note a Bakersfield connection: Her mom, Carole, was born here, though she didn't stay long.

"People like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were just a part of what was on the radio every day, along with newer artists. I don't think at the time I even knew what Bakersfield's 'sound' was. I just knew the artists and that they were a part of my life."

As a repeat co-host (with Brad Paisley) of the Country Music Awards, Underwood feels an obligation to see what her colleagues are up to musically, and though she said she likes a lot of what she hears, she isn't that influenced by it. She's too busy cultivating her own artistic identity.

"When I turn on the radio, I don't wanna hear the same song, I wanna know a certain person's sound. When I hear a song, it's like, 'Ah, this is so-and-so.' You know? I think it's really great. I think there really is something for everyone."

As for life on the road -- a necessity for a performer of Underwood's stature -- it comes at a personal price. In 2010, the singer married professional hockey player Mike Fisher, who is based in Nashville.

"The phone kind of becomes your best friend, and I know my husband and I really need to get better about talking on the phone. I don't know, we're not chatty people, so that gets difficult at times. But we see each other when we can and know that, at some point, I'll be off the road and I can drive him crazy."

Maintaining friendships is difficult as well, especially if the friends in question are just as famous. Underwood's phone contains some high-profile contacts, including singers Miranda Lambert and fellow "Idol" alum Kellie Pickler.

"I'll text Miranda from time to time and talk about how we really need to get together, but of course we're never in the same place at the same time. It's just really nice to have a lot of other females in the genre that are genuinely nice and normal, and you can have a conversation with them and get to be happy for them when good things happen."

But the singer has been able to forge a family of sorts on the road from the entourage of people who work to keep the Underwood machine going.

"When you grow up and you think about being famous and, 'Oh, I wanna sing,' you know it just seems so easy and glamorous. You think, 'Oh, those musicians, they sleep all day and so many other people do everything for them, and they just get up and sing at night.' But there's just so much work that goes into it, and so many people involved. I never knew that side of it: how many people it took to make one person's career go 'round."

The star, whose upcoming concert will be her third in Bakersfield since 2008, is eager to give local fans something new.

"We worked really hard at making this show something that visually just tells a story, and makes sense from start to finish. You can follow it and love it, hear your favorite songs and be introduced to a couple new ones. I'm just really proud of what we've done with this show. So, I just want people to come take it all in."

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