Underwood Aims For Crossover

Unlike the winners before her, current "American Idol" champ Carrie Underwood is gunning for success in not only the pop format, but the country arena too.

Unlike the winners before her, current "American Idol" champ Carrie Underwood is gunning for success in not only the pop format, but the country arena too.

Thus, Arista Nashville, a division of RCA Label Group, is partnering with 19 Recordings and J Records in New York to work Underwood's Nov. 15 debut, "Some Hearts."

Underwood has already scored with "Inside Your Heaven," this year's best-selling retail single. The song -- which has sold 434,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- topped The Billboard Hot 100 in July because of its strong sales. Now she will try to earn fans at country radio.

"It's a dual approach," says RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante, who says his Nashville office will handle country radio promotion for Underwood's single "Jesus, Take the Wheel," as well as other marketing and promotion efforts in the country community. The J Records staff is working the album's title track to top 40 and AC radio as well as taking the record to retail.

Underwood is depending on both labels to shepherd her efforts. "They know what they're doing," she says. "I'm a country singer, but because of my exposure on 'American Idol,' I might tend to cross over naturally."

"Jesus, Take the Wheel" is off to a great start at country radio, debuting at No. 39 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and already up to No. 23. It is the first time a newcomer has debuted in the top 40 on that chart with a track from a debut album since Billboard adopted Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems' monitored airplay information as the basis for its radio charts in 1990.

"I'm not preaching," Underwood says of the tune. "It's just a beautiful song I figured a lot of people could relate to whether they believe in God or not. Everybody has had a time in their life when they needed help with something."

In recording the album with producers Mark Bright and Dann Huff, the Checotah, Okla., native says it was important to "keep things as country as possible." Her manager, Simon Fuller (who heads the 19 imprint) suggested she meet with Nashville writers. That turned into a weekend retreat that resulted in one of her co-writes, "I'm Not in Checotah Anymore," making it onto the record. She is buying a home in Nashville and looks forward to more co-writing opportunities.

"Everybody seems to have their arms wide open to me, so that's been great," says Underwood, who admits her first Nashville experience was not so positive. At 15, she was pitched to labels on Music Row and turned down.

Confirmed appearances for Underwood include the Country Music Association Awards, "Dateline," the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, "Dr. Phil," "The View," "Today," "Live With Regis and Kelly," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Underwood has also gotten exposure through her spokeswoman deals with Skechers and Hershey's. She appears in Skechers print ads and Hershey's TV ads.