Boosted by hit songs and broad appeal, sales of season 4 ''Idol'' champ Underwood's year-old CD squash new discs by Ruben, Taylor and Fantasia

By Leah Greenblatt
Updated January 18, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Carrie Underwood: Michael Hickey/

What does Carrie Underwood have that other American Idol champs don’t? Well, for starters, she’s got the new millennium’s top-selling single-disc country album by a female artist. More than 14 months after a strong bow at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 (where it still sits at No. 15), Some Hearts has accumulated 20 weeks at No. 1 on the Country Albums chart and was certified five-times platinum. Now buoyed by the strength of Underwood’s fourth single, it’s outpacing much-touted recent releases by fellow Idol victors Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, and Fantasia, none of which even crack this week’s top 50 on the Billboard 200.

What’s propelling Underwood’s unstoppable chart run? Chalk it up to her genre’s current upswing. ”When country thrives,” says CMT executive VP Brian Philips, ”it’s because there’s a voice that speaks to young women, and Carrie is that. [These] people come along every decade or so — [like] the Dixie Chicks.” Still, even Philips is surprised by the speed at which the notoriously insular Nashville fan base — and pretty much everyone else — has embraced the Idol. ”The time compression on this career is really amazing — you go from [being] a winner of a television talent contest to a multifaceted, multicategory artist in full bloom.”

Also helping Underwood are her savvy song choices. She’s snared an armload of honors from outlets as diverse as Billboard, the Teen Choice Awards, the Gospel Music Association, and the CMAs, where she earned a surprise Female Vocalist of the Year win. And on Feb. 11, Underwood will compete for two Grammys: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (for ”Jesus, Take the Wheel”) and Best New Artist.

When she’ s not being handed trophies, Underwood is working on her next CD. Sony BMG Nashville head Joe Galante says a new single will debut this summer, while her sophomore album will arrive in the fall. And he insists she won’ t mess with her winning formula — or suddenly pander to the pop market. ”We can’ t forget what got her here,” he says. ”[Country] is where she lives and breathes. She was born to sing these songs.” And, for that matter, sell them.