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why carrie was blown away by belfast

The reigning queen of country music and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood tells Maureen Coleman how she was moved by Titanic story

Since winning American Idol in 2005, country star Carrie Underwood has won six Grammy awards, scored 17 number one singles and performed to over two million fans on her headlining tours.

But despite huge success on a global scale, it's taken the Oklahoma-born singer eight years to bring her live shows to the UK and Ireland.

Her most recent Blown Away tour saw her play Belfast, Dublin and London for the first time as part of a worldwide schedule covering 112 dates in 110 cities across six countries and three continents.

Country music's reigning queen says there are a number of reasons why it took her so long to visit these shores.

"I think the demand has gotten a lot bigger, not just for myself but for other country singers as well, to come to other parts of the world, which is really cool," she explains.

"Also, being able to establish myself where I'm from first is important. I don't want to go anywhere else and think I'm big stuff there.

"It's very important to be able to focus time and attention and grow relationships in other places and not just expect the world."

Her Belfast debut at the Waterfront Hall on March 15 this year stands out as particularly memorable for 30-year-old Carrie, not least because of her involvement in a marriage proposal on stage.

In front of several thousand concert-goers, Bangor man Terry Henry got down on one knee and popped the question to girlfriend Rachel Watt, while Carrie looked on in delight.

"We normally don't do a whole lot of things like that," Carrie admits. "But this guy was just so sincere. His letters were so genuine. You could just tell that he loved her and she loved us and he wanted to make it a really special night for her. And I was so honoured to be a part of that.

"So yeh, Belfast stands out for me, but not just because of the proposal. The crowd was really wonderful. I mean, you always think 'are people going to like us?', 'are people going to show up to our shows?' We just had such an amazing response. I don't take that for granted at all.

"And the one thing that I noticed was that everybody sang every single word of all of our songs. It seemed like people had done their homework and wanted to know everything that we were going to play before we played it and they were ready. Everyone was singing along."

I ask Carrie if she got a chance to see the sights when she was here. Many overseas celebrities 'hum' and 'ha' when faced with this question and throw out general replies.

Given their busy itineraries, it's not that surprising that some can't tell one city from another. But Carrie's pretty clued up about Belfast.

"We went to the Titanic Museum first," she said. "We just had to do that. It was really cool. They weren't just talking about the Titanic, but they had a lot of information on the history of Belfast and the things that are made in the city. Then we went to this little pub called White's, which was fun. It was nice to get out and explore Belfast a bit.

"We don't normally get to do that too much. There's usually so much on our plates that we tend to forget to wander around but when we were in Ireland, I was determined to get out there and see stuff."

Carrie, who was raised on her parents' farm in the rural town of Checotah, Oklahoma, says she is keen to trace her heritage and find out if she has Irish blood.

"I've recently hired a genealogist to go back through my family history so I am eagerly awaiting what he's found for me," she says.

The Blown Away tour, which launched in spring of last year on the back of her chart-topping album of the same name, saw Carrie play for over one million fans and earned her the accolade of Top Female Country Touring Artist of 2012.

In her debut London shows, the Royal Albert Hall sold out in a mere 90 minutes in June last year, with encore performances in March this year at London's O2 Arena.

As well as performing throughout North America, the UK and Ireland, the tour also brought her to Australia.

To commemorate her first worldwide headlining tour, a DVD will be launched in the UK this month. The Blown Away Tour: LIVE features almost 100 minutes of performance footage, including many of Carrie's hit singles such as Jesus, Take The Wheel, Two Black Cadillacs, Before He Cheats and the track that inspired her tour name Blown Away.

Alongside the performance footage are exclusive bonus clips, produced and directed by Todd Cassetty, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the tour, including interviews with Carrie and Raj Kapoor, the tour director responsible for the large production and visual effects.

The lengthy tour lasted for over a year and was planned methodically to coincide with her ice hockey star husband's absences from home.

Carrie met hunky Canadian Mike Fisher at one of her concerts in 2008. The couple, both devout Christians, began dating and were married two years later in Greensboro, Georgia.

The star-studded wedding included Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson among the guests.

"Mike didn't get to come to too many of the places on the tour," she explains. "I try to make my tour schedule match his playing schedule. If he's going to be gone, I might as well be gone too. He doesn't really get to come out on the road with us too much but he definitely made his way out once or twice on the tour."

A former broadcast journalism student, Carrie's life was turned upside down when she auditioned for the fourth season of American Idol, going on to win the whole show in 2005.

She has since become a multi-platinum selling recording artist and as well as the Grammys, has scooped 16 Billboard Music Awards, seven American Music Awards and 10 Academy of Country Music Awards. In 2008, she was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

She was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame the following year.

Carrie's first album of 2005, Some Hearts, became the fastest selling debut country album in history, the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history and the best-selling country album of the last 10 years.

Her second album, Carnival Ride enjoyed one of the biggest opening weeks by a female artist in history, while its follow-up, Play On, finished the year as the second top-selling release by a female artist. Last year's fourth album, Blown Away, was ranked the second best-selling release of the year by a female artist. In total, Carrie has sold over 30 million singles and 16 million albums worldwide. Along with the likes of Faith Hill and Taylor Swift, the beautiful blonde has been credited with helping give country music a much-needed make-over.

The genre has dusted off its rather down-trodden image and re-emerged as sexy and cool. And its cross-over appeal is continuing to spread. Just this year, the UK final of the Voice, featured young country singer Mike Ward.

So why has the genre become so popular of late? Carrie says: "There are a lot of country artists who are getting more airplay than other genres of music.

And I think now, that with today's technology, people are just interested in music in general and can go onto iTunes and find new things that they never thought they'd be into before. Technology has opened up a new world and given people access to all kinds of music.

"I really think it's more about the music and the artist than the genre."

Raised on the farm, Carrie says she had a happy childhood, surrounded by music.

On her website she states: "Growing up in the country, I enjoyed things like playing on dirt roads, climbing trees, catching little woodland creatures and, of course, singing."

"I was lucky," she tells me. "My parents listened to one kind of music, my sister listened to another kind and then country music was all around me, it was part of the culture.

"I was fortunate because I had a lot of other musical influences. But, you know, country music is my heart.

"I love it. I love the honesty, people just getting up and doing what they do. And there are so many incredible songwriters in country music."

Is there anyone in particular Carrie would like to work with?

"I am really up for anything," she replies.

"I feel really blessed that I have been able to work with so many incredible songwriters and artists and I'm kind of up for whatever comes up, whatever seems right.

"I don't like forcing anything but if me and someone else has the same idea and we want to work together and it's meant to be, then yeh, I'd be up for it."

As the most successful reality television contestant ever, Carrie, not surprisingly, jumps to the defence of shows like American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice and says they are an integral part of the industry now.

"Way back in the day, people were always trying to figure out ways of being discovered, singing in bars, that type of thing," she says.

"Today, it seems that things have been so muddled up. A lot of people don't necessarily have to be as talented as they would have had to be 20 or 30 years ago.

"If you look the part, or if you have several of the boxes ticked off, you mightn't have to tick all the boxes. On shows like American Idol, it's just pure.

"People get up and they sing with no music and the people watching can make up their minds. The viewers are telling you what they what, that's what they're voting for.

"I honestly consider it to be a little bit more genuine that a lot of other ways to get your song on the radio, to get yourself heard. Well, that's my opinion anyway.

"Any way to follow your dreams is cool and shows like American Idol can open doors. It certainly worked for me."

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