Carrie Underwood’s music still features fiddles, steel guitars and banjos, but don’t let that fool you. The 2005 “American Idol” winner is hardly a country artist, if she ever was.
After all, she got her start as the winner of a reality-show contest. But while she has something of a prefabricated air about her, Underwood is too talented to spend her career as simply the product of pop-culture machinery — or even as one of the biggest country stars in America. And she knows it.
Her new DVD, “The Blown Away Tour: Live,” is instructive. She bursts on stage clad in a purple sequined dress and immediately launches into the rocking “Good Girl” from her 2012 album “Blown Away.”
The look and music fall somewhere between full-on diva mode and arena rock from the get-go. Expect the same thing from Underwood as she hits the main stage at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup Friday night.
Underwood’s show is well-suited to a fair performance. She’s not one to trifle with cutesy dance routines, and the show she recorded for her DVD is surprisingly restrained for someone reaching for the apex of pop superstardom.
It’s hard not to compare Underwood to another blond “country-lite” artist now making the crossover to mainstream pop, but unlike Taylor Swift, Underwood is one of the best singers in the business. When Swift recently put up a valiant vocal effort at her Tacoma Dome show, it was a pleasant surprise but would have been an embarrassment for Underwood.
At 30, Underwood is reaching the height of her powers and has perfected her trademark bluesy snarl, which she unleashes in gale-force proportions on revenge fantasies such as “Two Black Cadillacs” and “Before He Cheats.” It’s small wonder why those songs are both mega hits.
While it would be nice to see Underwood develop some subtlety at some point in her career, rockers and power ballads suit her flamethrower of a voice. It’s rare enough to find someone who doesn’t need Autotune to sing in tune, so most of us will happily listen to Underwood belt big songs without complaint.
In a different era, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Underwood as a blues star. She could probably do a pretty good job with Etta James’ “Tell Mama.” But this is 2013, and Underwood has announced with “Blown Away” she’s ready to make high-level pop music even if she keeps some country window dressings. The annoying digital effects that mar several cuts off that album are evidence of the transition she’s in.
That’s a minor complaint. In an era that finds audiences eager to celebrate flash over substance, Underwood is the rare artist who embodies enough of the former and plenty of the latter.