TORONTO – When the cameras catch country star Carrie Underwood attending the games of hockey-playing husband Mike Fisher — and it happens quite often — she’s typically looking on demurely, sporting picture-perfect hair and a fresh jersey.
But she says she spends as much time chirping and screeching her disapproval as any other hockey fan.
“Oh, I sure do — of course I do. I get into it,” Underwood said this week during an interview at a posh Toronto hotel. “Or when somebody trips Mike or does something dirty, I’m like: ‘Are you KIDDING me?’ Yeah, I get pretty heated.”
Even behind enemy lines.
“We went to Phoenix for Game 5,” she says of the recent Western Conference semifinal, which Fisher’s Nashville Predators lost in five games.
“That one was dicey, because we were surrounded — there were probably 10 Preds fans (in the building), and we were like, eight of them, in our little box. So we were fighting a losing battle there.
“(But) what are they going to do to me?”
Well, Underwood has always had some feisty fight in her — and it’s that toughness she summons again and again on her top-selling new disc, “Blown Away.”
The record opens with jilted jolter “Good Girl,” which finds Underwood channelling Pat Benatar to issue a stern warning to an unfaithful ex’s latest conquest (Underwood says she’s loved belting out rock tunes since interpreting Motley Crue’s version of “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” as a three-year-old).
In the two tunes that follow — the propulsive title track and menacing “Two Black Cadillacs” — she respectively depicts a young woman taking shelter during a storm she hopes demolishes her abusive father upstairs, and a wife and mistress cheerfully conspiring to murder their shared man.
If there’s been a persistent criticism of Underwood, it’s that she’s played it too safe, hasn’t revealed enough personality. But such righteous anthems have always suited Underwood’s vast voice, even if the fury initially seems out of step with the diminutive 29-year-old, who stands 5-3 and offers a tiny handshake so gentle it wouldn’t crack an egg.
“I’m an Okie girl,” said Underwood, who grew up in the rural town of Checotah, Okla., with a population under 4,000. “I know I’ve got some high heels and makeup on now, but … I’m southern. I’m a strong female. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“It wouldn’t be a Carrie Underwood album without some sort of — not revenge song, but some attitude,” she added. “I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of people, women, in country music that can successfully pull that off. And I feel like I can.”
Indeed, she’s had little reason to doubt herself since winning the fourth season of “American Idol” in 2005.
She released her debut, “Some Hearts,” that year and it went on to reach platinum certification seven times over in the United States and three times in Canada. Her next two records were similarly multi-platinum and “Blown Away” has occupied the top spot on the chart in Canada and the U.S. in both of the weeks since its release.
She’s grown both as a performer — looking back on her “Idol” run, she says: “I was scared and I looked scared” — and as a writer. She co-wrote eight of the 14 tracks on her latest record, but says accumulating credits was the farthest thing from her mind.
In fact, the tunes she seems most excited about — brittle piano ballad “Forever Changed” or the title track — were written by other Nashville vets.
“People ask me how important it is to write my own stuff, and it’s awesome, but I would have missed out on songs like that if I had tried to do everything myself, and that would be a real shame,” said the five-time Grammy winner.
“It’s awesome if (I help) write a great song. I’m not stupid, though. I want the best songs on there, and just because I didn’t write it doesn’t mean I can’t make it believable… And I’m not trying to get my name on songs that I didn’t write. I hear writers telling horror stories about other artists putting their name on there when they didn’t do anything.
“I’d never do that. Never, never, never, in a million years.”
Similarly, she says she was confident enough not to worry about the critical reception to her new material.
“I did my first albums, and I’ve since learned better,” she said of reading reviews. “In my life, music, movies, music, doesn’t matter what it is — if it gets great reviews, I hate it. And the worst reviews, it’s a movie that I just love.”
While she’s grown more comfortable, she’s also learned to tweak her schedule.
She left two and a half years between 2009′s “Play On” and her latest release, a longer gap than she’d allowed herself in her career previously. And now that the album’s out, she won’t launch her world tour — which includes stops in four Canadian provinces — until September.
“Some people, it seems like they make an album every year. And they’re on this perma-tour, is what I call it. They don’t ever live a life. I don’t know if that’s because their job maybe defines them? I don’t consider music and what I do to define who I am as a person,” said Underwood, who lives with Fisher in Nashville.
“My husband, obviously, is off in the summer so keeping that open is important to me. It was all about not being … on the hamster wheel.”
In person, Underwood is cordial, thoughtful and far less guarded than one might expect from someone commonly shadowed by paparazzi. But such openness doesn’t come naturally to her, she says.
She joined Twitter — reluctantly, it should be said — less than three months ago. She’s only issued a little over 150 tweets since and mainly uses the social networking tool to promote upcoming appearances, and certainly never reveals intimate details of her life in the manner of, say, Rihanna.
“I’m careful about how I portray myself, and I really hope I never say anything stupid on Twitter to make me regret doing it,” she said. “It’s baby steps letting people into our lives, because … I’m a private person, I really am.
“I mean, I don’t like people to look at me, you know?” she added. “I’m a blend-er. I want to be a blender. And when I’m at the grocery store or whatever, it’s sometimes like, ‘Whoa. I can’t believe I get onstage in front of all these people and sing.’
“It’s weird. It’s a weird occupational choice for me, and my personality.”