Carrie Underwood's 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

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Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Nov. 22, 2015 in Los Angeles.

It’s hard to fathom, but it’s been a dozen years since Carrie Underwood won American Idol, and the hearts of America in the process. Since that night in May 2005, she has had an unparalleled streak of successes, as all of her singles have peaked no lower than No. 2 on the Country Singles chart – including 18 trips to the top.

Underwood made headlines earlier this year with her label move from Arista to Capitol Nashville, and she currently is in the midst of a break while she embarks on the creative process for her first album there. With that in mind, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the first chapter of the Grand Ole Opry star’s historic rise to stardom – with these 10 essential hit performances!

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10. Carrie Underwood - “Two Black Cadillacs”

Going back to its beginnings, country music has always had a fondness for songs of tragedy. While some might debate the tragic part of this story, with the cheater getting his just desserts from the two women he scorned, this million-selling single definitely captured the imagination of any woman who had been in that situation. The dark music video also played a critical role in the success of the track, which she co-wrote with Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey.

9. Carrie Underwood - “Temporary Home”

On the other end of the Underwood spectrum are records that show the singer’s spiritual side, and this co-write (with Luke Laird and Zac Maloy) definitely tugged on many heartstrings upon its release in the fall of 2009. With the message of the song that this life isn’t permanent, the record also crossed over to the top 40 on the Christian chart.

8. Carrie Underwood - “Smoke Break”

After giving birth to son Isaiah, Underwood returned to radio with the first single from Storyteller, which revealed a bit more of an organic sound than fans were used to from the singer. The lyrics – about finding the time and opportunity to take a breather -- made this the Carrie Underwood song with the most first-week adds at country radio in her career. It didn’t hurt that listed on this cut as a writer – with Underwood and Chris DeStefano – was none other than her musical right hand woman, Lindsey.

7. Carrie Underwood - “I Told You So” (with Randy Travis)

Underwood’s rise to stardom was so sudden – and spread across so many musical formats – that traditional-minded country music fans might have wondered if she could handle a song in that fashion. She answered that question in style with this cut from her second disc, Carnival Ride, which was a re-cut of a 1988 No. 1 from Randy Travis. Making this song even more special was the fact that Travis added his vocals to the single version, making for a classic moment for both artists.

6. Carrie Underwood - “Remind Me” (with Brad Paisley)

Underwood has had such an undeniable chemistry with Paisley as host of the CMA Awards that it only made sense for the two to pair their talents on record. The song – written by Paisley along with Chris DuBois and Kelly Lovelace – provided both artists with chances to use their talents to maximum effect, with Underwood sounding particularly strong in this dramatic ballad of a once-remarkable love turned ordinary.

5. Carrie Underwood - “Heartbeat”

Her Storyteller album was a sales and artistic triumph for the singer, and the singles from the disc were a reflection of her ongoing growth as an artist. This was perhaps her most versatile single to date, a seamless mix of country, pop, and R&B. The fans fell instantly for the soulful groove of the cut, which featured Sam Hunt on harmony vocals.

4. Carrie Underwood - “Jesus, Take the Wheel”

Showing her faith has never been something the Oklahoma native has shied away from, as evidenced by the nature of her very first hit single. Fresh off the Idol win, the lyrics of this one helped many draw inspiration, even during the worst of times, by leaning on a higher power. It was not only Underwood’s first major hit, but also the first Carrie Underwood song to be penned by Hillary Lindsey, who she has turned to time and time again for material in her career.

3. Carrie Underwood - “Before He Cheats” 

Underwood’s largest selling single to date was the first to show a somewhat tougher side of the singer, as she went completely off on a cheating significant other. The lyrics – about carving one’s name in leather seats, slashing tires and smashing his headlights with a Louisville Slugger bat -- wisely suggest that Underwood is not someone to be messed with ... not that we could imagine anyone wanting to!

2. Carrie Underwood - “Wasted” 

The sixth and final single from Some Hearts qualifies as the term “ear candy.” Producer Mark Bright provided Underwood with a sonic texture of sound on this cut that literally danced off of the radio airwaves when it was released in the spring of 2007. Simply put, this was 3:44 (the radio version) of vocal and instrumental perfection.

1. Carrie Underwood - “Something in the Water”

In any conversation of Carrie Underwood songs, this one might be the best of her lot so far. Not only was this soaring vocal performance easily the best of her career – so far – but to suggest it stands as one of the best female performances in country music history is not an exaggeration. A chart-topping country and Christian hit, how this 2014 single did not get any attention from either the CMA or the ACM remains one of Nashville’s biggest unsolved mysteries.