The former American Idol winner sold 6 million copies of her debut album Some Hearts , a phenomenal number for any artist, let alone a new one. She won two Grammy awards, scored three No. 1 country hits and shot to superstardom almost overnight.
She was entitled to a few butterflies before the release of her follow-up, Carnival Ride .
"It's so anticipated. Not just by the public, but by us too," she said before the disc's release Oct. 23. "The whole 'Can we top the first one?' mind-set sets in.' "
But she said she wouldn't make the mistake of measuring success strictly by the numbers.
"Even if it doesn't sell as many, I feel like we've made a better album, which is what you want to do," she said.
The first single, So Small , is No. 3 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. Like her breakthrough hit Jesus, Take the Wheel , the lyrics and the music are uplifting, proclaiming "when you figure out love is all that matters after all, it sure makes everything else seem so small."
The track is one of four that Ms. Underwood co-wrote, a step up from her one co-write on the debut. In fact, she had a larger hand in the project because there was much more time compared with the tight schedule after her American Idol win in 2005.
"I was in the studio whether we were recording or not. If Mark (producer Mark Bright) was doing something, I'd come by and listen to the background vocals that were being put down, and if I found something I didn't like, maybe I'd tell the background vocalists that I think it would sound better if we did it like this," she said. "Mark was super open because it's my voice and my album, and in the end I'm the one who should be most pleased with it."
Sony BMG Nashville Chairman Joe Galante says Ms. Underwood has grown since her Idol whirlwind and that it shows on the new record.
"I don't think anything prepares you for what happened to her in that two-year period, especially with the speed at which it happened. No matter how grounded you are or how many people you have telling you this is what to expect, until you go through it, you don't know," Mr. Galante said.
"She's going to be around for a long time. She's got a career. I think that will be the biggest measure of her success," he added. "She's on her way to having a long-term career in this business where people are gone the next year."
A petite blonde of 24, Ms. Underwood says she's still shy and reserved in some situations.
"I look back at the Idol tapes and I look horrified. I'm really amazed people still voted for me. I think I'm better at it now. But in social situations I'm still really shy. I'm not a great people person. I'm not good at initiating conversations or carrying conversations or anything like that.
"But I think now at least I can kind of turn it on when I get on stage. I do better and feel more comfortable on stage, but it's taken a while," she said.
Born and raised in Checotah, Okla., Ms. Underwood, the youngest of three sisters, began singing in church and later in school musicals and talent shows. But without Idol , she said, she never would have come to Nashville.
"Packing up and hoping never would have been enough for me," she said. "I'm too rational. I'm not enough of a dreamer for that."
There were drawbacks to her climb. She's the first to admit she wasn't ready for all the attention. She likes her privacy, and it's become harder to find. Most recently, her relationship with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been a source of speculation. (For the record, she says, they're just "really good friends.")
Click here to listen to a clip from Carrie Underwood's 'Last Name'