“Fourteen years ago I was on American Idol. My career is like a seventh grader,” Carrie Underwood quipped with her signature easygoing, dry humor as she spoke to the Birmingham, Alabama, crowd on Friday evening (May 3), during the second night of her recently launched Cry Pretty Tour 360. “Every day there is some moment that happens that I have to pinch myself and say, ‘How do I get to do this?’ The thing I wanted to do when I was like three years old, I’m doing right now.”
Indeed, over the past 14 years, Underwood has steadily built a career as a multi-talented entertainer, songwriter, singer, awards show host, clothing designer, fitness enthusiast and a role model for a generation of fans. Along the way, Underwood has also crafted a song catalog that relies as much on substance of lyric as it does awe-inspiring vocal runs.
Similar to her 2016 Storyteller Tour outing, Underwood opted for an in-the-round stage for her Cry Pretty Tour 360, this time with the stage arranged in a sleek eye shape, paying homage to the tour’s namesake album, Underwood’s sixth studio project (and first for new label home UMG Nashville), Cry Pretty.
Carrie launched the evening with the sunny, summery “Southbound,” which she recently debuted at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Underwood’s unmistakable voice brought everyone to attention, as she held court from a riser in the middle of the stage. Each corner of the riser was accented with pops of light, before Underwood descended to the main stage, and worked her way around the arena, shimmying to the song’s party-ready grooves, waving and greeting fans.
She continued with “Cowboy Casanova” and “Last Name,” before offering a new track from the Cry Pretty album, “Blacksliding.”
After descending beneath the stage momentarily, Underwood reappeared in a sparkly pantsuit, welding a guitar for rendition of “Church Bells.” She was then flanked by eight band members, each on a separate riser that ascended to varying heights, each accented with sparks of fire, as they offered “Two Black Cadillacs.”
Throughout the show, she highlighted other instruments—bongos during “End Up With You” from the new album, and later played an upright piano for “See You Again,” as members of the audience held up cell phones throughout the arena.
While still clad in the sparkling pantsuit, Underwood donned a black hat as she slunk across a center stage catwalk and seated herself on a red velvet couch. Holding a classy microphone fit for Sinatra, she crooned a version of the sultry “Drinking Alone,” accented by jazzy saxophone and piano accompaniments.
The concert was marked by those subtle twists and turns on Underwood’s hits. She melded the military ballad “Just A Dream” with Aerosmith’s “Dream On”—made complete when Underwood stunned as she tilted her head back and let loose with a piercing, nearly feral-sounding falsetto note rarely heard from the country singer.
Underwood offered several songs that had been absent from her Storyteller tour, along with some fan-favorite deep album cuts.
Calling the medley a “walk down memory lane,” she performed “Temporary Home,” followed by the aforementioned “See You Again,” before letting loose with one of her strongest vocals of the evening, dipping into her Carnival Ride album for “I Know You Won’t.” Given the way the audience roared, the song might as well have been a chart-topping hit.
She followed with her debut hit “Jesus Take The Wheel.” As she walked across the stage, each riser acted as a stair step, lifting Underwood ever higher as song reached its inspiring crescendo.
“I’m proud to be part of a genre of music where I can sing songs like that, songs that are important to me. This next one is very important,” she said, introducing one of the most gut-wrenching songs from her Cry Pretty album, “The Bullet.” As Underwood stood on a riser over the audience, smoke billowed over the edges like a cloudy waterfall as she followed with “Something In the Water,” melding it with a segment from the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
Not only is she singing important songs, she’s offering herself to important causes.
Underwood is one of three female country artists—alongside Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris—spearheading all-female tours this year, one of three female artists using their headlining platforms to lift up other newcomer female artists, in light of the stark void of female voices on today’s country radio.
In addition to welcoming the all-female acts Maddie & Tae and Runaway June to open her concerts, Underwood and company paid tribute to the female artists who have paved the way by performing bits of their most iconic radio hits.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if there had not been so many incredible country women,” Underwood said, before singing Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” a cappella. She was soon joined by Runaway June and Maddie & Tae for Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5,” The Judds’ “Rhythm of the Rain,” Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s In Love With The Boy,” Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” Faith Hill’s “Wild One,” Reba’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”
Throughout the evening, multiple thin screens projected images—plumes of smoke and a swirling tornado on “Blown Away,” jewels and photos of Underwood with husband Mike Fisher and their two sons, Isaiah and Jacob, as “Kingdom” played.
The vibrant and captivating stage production was matched only by the intensity of Underwood’s hallmark voice.
As the concert began to draw to a close, a live shot of Underwood putting on the purple and pink glitter tears (as featured on her Cry Pretty album cover) played on the screens, just before she again took center stage, belting out the vulnerable and fearless titular track as strands of glitter hung above the stage. She ended the evening with another hit from Cry Pretty, flanked again by her band as she ended with a message of hope and acceptance on “Love Wins.”
It was hard to miss that the show was a celebration of women, along with their triumphs and struggles, whether they are fighting to be heard on country radio, or whether they are facing battles of a more personal nature.
Prior to the launch of the tour, Underwood invited fans on social media to submit video of themselves performing Ludacris’ rap portion of “The Champion,” for the chance to perform the track with Underwood during the tour. For the Birmingham show, Underwood welcomed local resident Jessika to the stage, revealing to the crowd that Jessika’s daughter Olivia was fighting cerebral palsy.
Jessika offered a fearless delivery of the rap portion of the song, while waving and pointing to her daughter in the crowd. In one of the highlights of the evening, she surprised even Underwood when she belted the song’s final piercing melody in a moment that had fans and Underwood alike clapping, pumping fists and stomping in support.
While Underwood’s previous tour proved she is indeed an award-worthy, headlining superstar, with the Cry Pretty Tour 360, she’s building on that superstar status, using her own platform to encourage other women to fearlessly pursue their dreams, and to fight for the things and people that matter to them.
Judging by the smile that rarely left her face throughout the performance, she’s clearly having fun while she’s at it, a living embodiment of her own lyric from “The Champion”: Don’t think I did it for the fame/ I did it for the love of the game.
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