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SPOTLIGHT ARTIST OF THE DAY: CARRIE UNDERWOOD

Carrie Underwood was born March 10, 1983. Her family already owned the farm in Checotah, Okla., though Underwood was born in the next town over, the one made famous in Merle Haggard‘s song, “Okie From Muskogee.” Her father, Stephen, worked at a paper mill, and her mother, Carole, was an elementary school teacher. Underwood is the youngest of three sisters. Shanna is 13 years older and Stephanie is 10 years older. Underwood was just 4 years old when Shanna moved out on her own but says her siblings have always been there for her.

Music didn’t run in the family, but Underwood started singing at church when she was 3. Once she was in school, she sang solo roles in student plays. By the seventh grade, people were taking more notice of her voice as she entered local talent shows. She was told she had a “big voice” for “such a little girl.”

Her taste in music was varied, thanks to her parents (who liked oldies) and sisters (who favored ’80s pop). She started listening to country music in the car.

She was involved in her high school music program, but she kept telling people she was going to become a famous singer. Then she enrolled at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., and became more serious about her career choice. She chose broadcast journalism for her major and produced a student-run television program and wrote for the school paper, The Northeastern.

Music wasn’t completely out of the picture. While in college, she had a role in a country music show where she learned about country legends like Patsy Cline and the Carter Family. She was still taking her college classes when friends encouraged her to audition for American Idol. At first, she resisted. However, she soon realized if she didn’t audition, she would graduate, get a job and may never have a chance to try out for the show again. So one night after wrapping an appearance in the college country music show, she piled into the car with her mom, a friend and her mother and drove all night, arriving in St. Louis at 6 a.m. They had to be at the stadium by 8 a.m. to receive wristbands to be eligible for the auditions. Then she waited eight hours before singing Martina McBride‘s “Phones Are Ringing All Over Town” for American Idol supervising producer James Breen.

Underwood didn’t think she sang it well although she was invited to come back the next day and sing for executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. She sang another McBride song for Lythgoe, “Independence Day.” On the next round, Underwood sang Bonnie Raitt‘s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” for the show’s judges, who sent her to Hollywood on her first-ever airline flight. As the weeks went by, the other contestants were voted off the show one by one, until the finale on May 25, 2005, when it was Underwood vs. Bo Bice. When Ryan Seacrest announced the winner, Underwood became America’s new idol.

She signed to 19 Recordings/Arista Records and released the single “Inside Your Heaven,” which debuted as the best selling song in the nation with sales of 170,000. She broke Billboard chart history as the first country music artist ever to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Underwood’s “Inside Your Heaven” also became the first song from a country artist to go to No. 1 on the Hot 100 since Lonestar‘s “Amazed” did so in 2000. However, the single was scarcely played on country radio.

Following her win, she performed on the American Idol tour and signed advertising deals for Hershey’s chocolate and Skechers shoes. She released the single “Jesus, Take the Wheel” to country radio later that year; her debut album Some Hearts followed in November, less than six months following her Idol win.

Some Hearts proved to be a huge hit, leading to the No. 1 hits “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Don’t Forget to Remember Me and “Before He Cheats.” She toured with Kenny Chesney as well as Brad Paisley in 2006. She also won her first CMA Awards in 2006, in the Horizon and female vocalist categories.


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STUDIO 330 SESSION CUT OF THE DAY: BILLY CURRINGTON

CLICK HERE TO WATCH BILLY CURRINGTON PERFORM “I GOT A FEELING” ON STUDIO 330 SESSIONS AT CMT.COM

Billy Currington was raised in Rincon, Ga., about 30 minutes outside of Savannah, Ga. His mother married a man named Larry Currington when Billy was a year-and-a-half old. Through the next few years, Billy experienced the turmoil that alcohol abuse can do to a family. “He’d get drunk and a little crazy,” Currington says. “He eventually died of drinking and cancer.”

Currington auditioned at Opryland USA theme park as a junior in high school but didn’t make it. However, he moved to Nashville after high school to pursue a career in music. His first stint didn’t last long, but he returned after paying his dues at a bar in Georgia. In Nashville, he worked for a concrete company and then part-time as a personal trainer. One of his clients led him to demo work and then writing songs. Shortly after his publisher chose not to renew his contract, he signed to Mercury Records.

His debut single, “Walk a Little Straighter,” tells the story of a child watching his drunk father stumbling through the door and vowing not to make that same mistake when he becomes a father. (Currington wrote the chorus at age 12.) His self-titled album was released in 2003.

In 2004, he memorably swung from a chandelier in the music video for his duet with Shania Twain, “Party For Two.” He parlayed his exposure into a successful second album, Doin’ Somethin’ Right, in 2005. The first single, “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right,” reached No. 1 at country radio at the end of 2005.

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