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Would American Idol winner Carrie Underwood have landed a major-label recording contract without winning the hugely popular television contest? Probably. The big-voiced Oklahoman has the pipes, the look, the pedigree, and, most important, the emotional resonance to sustain a professional career. As an investment in her future, her label eschewed the easy path in putting out an album to take advantage of her publicity, going for a name producer, Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Lonestar), to handle half the tracks. It also solicited material from the same top songwriters (Diane Warren, Brett James, Troy Verges, Rivers Rutherford) who stock albums by Hill, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, and Wynonna. "Jesus, Take the Wheel," the hit first single, shows off the best of Underwood's power vocals, while the sexy rocker "We're Young and Beautiful" pulls her out of her ballad-heavy comfort zone, and her autobiographical "I Ain't in Checotah Anymore" bolsters her authenticity. If the young performer oversings on occasion (the overwrought bonus track, "Inside Your Heaven"), and settles for too many generic themes, she still surprises in her ability to go head-to-head with country’s reigning females. Will Underwood really survive to be a contender for the Martina throne? Let's just say that American Idol judges and voters picked the right contestant. If the posturing Bo Bice had won, rock stars would hardly be quaking in their boots. --Alanna Nash
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Label:  Arista
Genre:  Today's Country
Release Date:  November 15, 2005
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Carrie Underwood: Some Hearts
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