Carrie Marie Underwood was born to Stephen and Carolyn Underwood in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and was raised on her parents' farm in the rural town of Checotah, Oklahoma. She has two older sisters, Shanna Underwood Means and Stephanie Underwood Shelton. Her father, Stephen, worked in a paper mill and her mother was an elementary school teacher. During her childhood, Underwood had performed at Robbins Memorial Talent Show while also singing at the Free Will Baptist Church and later on for local events in Checotah, including Old Settler's Day and the Lion's Club. In 1996, she was in the process of getting a contract with Capitol Records, but the deal was canceled when the recording company's management changed.
Underwood graduated from Checotah High School in 2001 as salutatorian. After high school, she attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, graduating magna cum laude in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and an emphasis in journalism. Underwood is a member of the Alpha Iota chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. For two years during the summer, she performed in Northeastern's Downtown Country show in Tahlequah. She also competed in numerous beauty pageants at the university and was selected as Miss NSU runner-up in 2004.
In the summer of 2004, Underwood auditioned for American Idol in St. Louis. When Underwood auditioned, judge Paula Abdul wasn't present, which left Abdul's fellow judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson to decide Underwood's fate in the competition. During the top eleven finalists' performance on the March 22, 2005, Idol episode, Underwood sang a rendition of the number one 80's rock hit "Alone" by Heart and judge Simon Cowell predicted that Underwood would not only win the competition, but would outsell all previous Idol winners. Underwood is one of five winners never to have been voted in the bottom three (the others being Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, and David Cook); one of the show's producers later said that Underwood dominated the voting, winning each week handily. While on the show, Underwood gained a loyal fan base known as "Carrie's Care Bears". Coincidentally, she was in the same sorority (Sigma Sigma Sigma) as Linda Denham, the creator of the original Care Bears franchise. On May 25, 2005, Underwood was crowned the winner of the fourth season of American Idol.
Underwood appeared on the sixth season of American Idol. She sang her single "Wasted" on March 8, marking her fourth time performing on the show since winning the competition in 2005. Underwood also performed at the Idol Gives Back concert singing her new song, "I'll Stand By You", (a cover of the Pretenders hit) along with Kelly Clarkson, Rascal Flatts, and others. Underwood sang the same song at American Idol's season finale on May 23, 2007. Underwood sang "Praying For Time", a former number one for George Michael, during the seventh season American Idol Gives Back mini-marathon. She also came back to perform "Last Name" on May 21, 2008, for the finale of the seventh season of American Idol.
Before she became a superstar through "American Idol," Carrie Underwood had plans to go into broadcast journalism, so singing was something she’d never pursued seriously.
Since her life took its dramatic turn, she’s tested her pipes in ways she never had before. Despite the amount of strain she’s put on her vocal cords, Carrie insists her voice is in great physical shape.
"Frankly, in the past couple of years I've just gotten an amazing amount of practice, I never sang this much. I sang in my car, you know, before all this stuff happened. That's pretty much about the only experience I got practicing singing. So I've gotten just a ridiculous amount of practice, so vocally, I feel good."