The pivotal American Idol moment for Carrie Underwood was when she teased her hair to the heavens and sang Heart's "Alone," belting out the power ballad with sincerity and a natural flair for drama. It was the surest sign that Carrie wasn't merely the country star the show gladly pigeonholed her as, that she was a pop star by any measure. Of course, the great irony was that Carrie had little interest in being a pop star; she wanted to be a country singer, but the sheer magnitude of American Idol meant that she was already a pop star who needed to cross over to country, a reverse of the usual crossover move.
The title of American Idol Sweetheart is surely coveted, but — as Kelly Clarkson taught us — it can cut as well. Both Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, two women gifted with powerful voices and all-American appeal, shot out from the AI mother ship with multiplatinum rockets: the former’s Breakaway (2004) and the latter’s Some Hearts (2005). While Clarkson fell back to earth with this year’s dark commercial misfire My December, Underwood is taking no chances.