First published on 3 Jul 2012. Updated on 3 Jul 2012.
Carrie Underwood is considered by the kinds of magazines that rank these things to be the most successful American Idol winner – ever. Yes, even more so than original idolus regnant Kelly Clarkson. She’s sold 22 million singles, won five Grammy Awards and is a stalwart at the Grand Ole Opry. But like a kind of reverse Kylie Minogue, the platinum-blonde country belter, who took out Idol’s fourth title back in 2005, has never cracked the world outside America in a big way. Based on last night’s evidence at the Sydney Opera House, that could well change.
It must be said that Underwood has been on this reviewer’s radar for some time. I first came across her while road-tripping across America with my country’n’western-lovin’ mother back in ’06 – a time when Underwood’s girl power-revenge anthem ‘Before He Cheats’ was smothering America’s country radio stations. It was unavoidable, and I didn’t mind. As far as country-pop-with-attitude goes, the song is about as good as it gets and far better material than most Simon Cowell-selected poppettes are ever allowed to release. It left a good impression – one that stuck with me. So it was that I entered the Concert Hall for Underwood’s first ever Australian gig with some high expectations.
The start was a little rough. Underwood came out looking amazing – those pink and silver sparkly leggings, oh my – but on opener, ‘Good Girl’, from latest album Blown Away, the huge band ate her up and a rollicking good country-pop song was lost in the noise somewhere along the way. Whether they were gobsmacked by the leggings – did we mention those? – or waiting for Underwood to say hello – it was 4-5 songs in before she did the customary “so excited to be at the Opera House” spiel – the audience was a bit slow settling in. We were worried: stiff audience + huge country pop + Opera House Concert Hall = a rather awkward evening.
Apparently, though, they were just saving themselves. As the chords to ‘Last Name’ kicked in – a cheeky-but-safe nod to sinful good times (“I don’t even know his last name, my momma would be so ashamed”) – the crowd was up on its boots. And Underwood clearly digged the enthusiasm, delivering a stomping good rendition. She did the same with ‘Undo It’ and a cover of INXS’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’. Nice touch. Her ridiculously huge voice – she may be the best reality comp winner as well as the most successful – seemed affected by sickness, getting a little chipmunk-y at times, but she powered through. And when she soared, she soared. ‘I Know You Won't’ was a lesson in power, and by the time she got to ‘Before He Cheats’ the crowd was doing the work for her anyway, screaming the chorus: “So I dug my keys into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheeled drive… maybe next time he’ll think, before he cheats.”
If Underwood has not quite broken through in the same way that say, Taylor Swift, has in this hemisphere, she’s certainly cut through deep with those who’ve found her. The crowd at the Opera House – with more cowboy hats and boots than you’d usually see in these parts, and at least one fabulous rodeo-style stars-and-stripes shirt – was adoring.
It’s something about being hugely relatable, we reckon. Here’s a pretty girl who grew up on a rural farm in Oklahoma, was plucked from obscurity and now sings about family and assholes (see ‘Cowboy Casanova’). Who ain’t into that? And if at times it feels like you’re at a Mitt Romney campaign stop or trapped in Hillsong church (as when ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ segues into the Celine-smashing beltfest that is ‘How Great Thou Art’), we’re willing to look the other way. A great voice + the right crowd + excellent songs = a good time at the Sydney Opry House.
Carrie Underwood played the Sydney Opera House Monday July 2.