Q&A: Carrie Underwood

In front of some 30 million viewers, Carrie Underwood went from being a small town girl from Checotah, Okla., to the latest "American Idol." While in New York this week, Underwood took some time to ta

In front of some 30 million viewers, Carrie Underwood went from being a small town girl from Checotah, Okla., to the latest "American Idol."

The 22-year-old singer beat the odds to be noticed among a field of more than 100,000 hopefuls, outlasted 11 fellow finalists and last week beat out Bo Bice in the final week of the Fox competition during a season that garnered a record 500 million viewer votes.

For her efforts, Underwood has been awarded a recording contract, signing to Arista Records with legendary music figure Clive Davis, chairman of BMG U.S., in conjunction with the show's producer, Simon Fuller and his company, 19 Recordings Limited.

The original composition "Inside Your Heaven" which Underwood performed during the May 25 "Idol" finale was serviced to radio immediately following the broadcast. The single, backed with a cover of Martina McBride's "Independence Day," will receive a retail release June 14 via Arista. Her full-length debut is due in the fall.

In the week since her win, Underwood is enduring a heavy schedule of interviews and television appearances. She's also preparing to join the annual American Idols Live tour, which will open July 12 in Sunrise, Fla., and play 41 shows through a Sept. 10 finale in Syracuse, N.Y.

While in New York this week, Underwood took some time to talk to Billboard.com about her newfound success.

What a ride! What's going on in your head?

Well, there's not ever much of anything going on in my head. I'm just thrilled to have this opportunity.

It's been a whirlwind week. Are you loving it or will it take some getting used to?

It's just like, I can't believe this is happening to me. The weirdest thing is it was just a dream, and now it's actually real. It's hard to believe sometimes.

Now that it's all over, what do you think of the overall "American Idol" experience?

There was never anything negative about it. It was a wonderful experience. I got to meet some of the best people I've ever met, and we all grew as people and as entertainers. Now we're looking forward to the ["American Idol"] tour.

Since you'll be surrounded by familiar faces, will this tour help you make the transition from contestant to the American Idol?

Yeah. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. It's especially going to be great to get out there and perform in front of big crowds without having to worry about the competition aspect of it.

The "Idol" experience has really been the first time you've been away from home.

The only other time I've been away from home was when I went to college. And that was just an hour away, so I could always go home if I needed to. It's been tough sometimes because I miss [my family], but I talk to them every night. They're always going to be there for me.

Are there any cities where you're really looking forward to performing?

I want to play at home [in Oklahoma]. I've never really been anywhere, and now I get to go everywhere. I just have to make sure there's enough memory on my computer to hold all my pictures.

When you go into the studio, who are you hoping to work with?

I don't want to say any names right now because I don't know if they'll come through. But there are a few people I've expressed interest in working with. It's a very exciting time. It's amazing to me that all these big names want to work with me.

It's because you're the American Idol...

I know, but it's just so hard to believe I guess.

On this first album, is your goal to appeal to mainly a country audience or more of a mainstream audience?

I think there'll be two different audiences involved. There'll be the country people, who are really embracing me right now and standing behind me, and I am so thankful for that. Then there are the people who don't necessarily like country music but watched the show and liked me. Hopefully I reached a new kind of audience and opened a few people's eyes to country music.

Obviously "American Idol" covers a broad spectrum.

You wouldn't believe the people who come up and are like, "Oh, we watched the show and voted for you." The show transcends age, gender, ethnicity, everything. Everybody knows what's going on. Even if they don't watch it they know what's happening.

And everybody has an opinion.

I think a lot of people were just glad to see me and Bo as the final two. I mean, I think. I try to think how I would have voted if I were sitting in the audience, and I really don't know. I was glad we were both there, and I get to do a lot of stuff with Bo now, so I'm really happy about that.

Although you and Bo appeal to different audiences, you work well together. Do you think you might collaborate now that the show's over?

I would love to. After our duet on the show, we got a lot of good feedback, I would definitely like to work with him later on. He's such a wonderful person. We both knew [the final results] would be close, but I know he will do just as well if not better than myself.

Did you ever think you'd actually be crowned the American Idol?

No, not in a million years. But once I got into the top four I thought, "OK, I might actually have a chance." I really tried to take it one week at a time. I didn't want to get my hopes up and be let down. Once it came down to me and Bo, we both decided no matter what happens we'd both set and we'd both be really happy.

When people see Carrie Underwood, what do you hope they're thinking?

I want people to think of me as a nice person. I really am so blessed. All of this has been a great experience and I thank the American public so much for putting me in this position. I appreciate every second of it.