Before Carrie Underwood even took the stage for the Tampa leg of her national Play On tour, the St. Pete Times Forum was swarming with excitable fans of all kinds. American Idol followers, country music lovers, and pop fanatics all joined together from her sweeping fan base to sing along to #1 hits like "Jesus Take The Wheel" and girl power break-up anthems including "Before He Cheats" and "Undo It" from the tour's eponymous album, "Play On."
The opening acts, however, were geared more towards the country fans in attendence. First on stage was Sons of Sylvia, a country trio of brothers known for their recent single "Love Left to Lose." They were an obvious choice, since they had recently collaborated on Underwood's song "What Can I Say" from her current album, were introduced by her when they performed on the results show of her alma mater, American Idol, and align with her combination of country and pop influences. Last night, the country-fried Jonas Brothers were a fun start to the show, but didn't really shine until Carrie called them back onstage with her later in the show to perform their duet.
Next up, Billy Currington came up to bat and, lucky for fans, sang some of his greatest hits, including "Good Directions," "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer" and "People are Crazy." Filled with twangy authenticity and charming relatability, he also belted out "That's How Country Boys Roll." The beer-loving, curly-haired, guitar-playing charmer was all Southern smiles and low-key vocals, an attitude well-received by the screaming fans. He "must be doin' something right," because Currington did an expert job of loosening up the crowd and getting them smiling with a selection of songs from his new album "Enjoy Yourself."
Then, amidst much fanfare and following a brief 20 minute intermission, the beautiful blond main event was raised into the spotlight right on time. She rocked the stage wearing a variety of ensembles, which each got progressively more revealing throughout the show, but was first seen in a tuxedo-style combo of leggings and coat tails. On a mission to get everyone dancing right away, she kicked off the show with a rousing rendition of "Cowboy Casanova" featuring the recognizable red chair from her music video as a spinning central set piece.
Despite that initial pick-me-up, Underwood showcased more of her slow songs than her dance numbers over the course of the night. This was perfectly fine with the crowd, considering her overwhelmingly impressive vocals and thought-stirring lyrics. Some of the mellow song choices included"Mama's Song" (with a backdrop of adorable baby pictures of Carrie), "Temporary Home" (which she loves "as a writer, as an artist, and as a person"), "I Told You So" (completed by a Grand Ole Opry set and Randy Travis singing his parts on screen), "So Small" and "Just a Dream." One noticably absent song, however, was the sweet love song "Don't Forget to Remember Me." Fans who wanted to get up and dance along weren't disappointed either, though, as her staples like "All-American Girl," "Last Name," and "Wasted," were all on the bill as well.
In addition to the vocals and performance elements, the crowd loved her girl-next-door affability and her gracious appreciation of her acceptance into the world of country music. Since her celebrity star has risen recently to include a national obsession with her personal life, hockey star hubby, and distracting, gigantic engagement ring , the fans were just as excited to hear her talk between songs as they were to listen to her powerhouse pipes. The newlywed opened up about life on the road performing over 100 shows this year with her band, being a "panicked senior in college trying out for a reality show" as a means to a Broadcast Journalism job, and even showed off a wedding picture on screen from her recent nuptuals.
Better yet, she told the story of her days performing in the back of a pick-up at her hometown's annual Okra Fest celebration, which inspired yet another over the top set piece - a life-sized blue truck, elevated and swinging the singer out into the audience at the mid-point of the show. Carrie even confided that it is always her favorite moment of each concert, even though she is terrified of heights, because she can see everyone in the whole building as she floats above the crowd.
At one point, she referenced her ever-changing wardrobe, with pieces mixing and matching so much she could fit right into the Transformers film franchise, saying "If you weren't counting, I believe this makes costume change #34. It's what I do." She's not kidding - one ensemble was even made up of LCD lights, glowing and displaying various images as she sang motivational ballad "Change" in near-darkness. Even cooler than the light show, however, was that Carrie is practicing what she preaches about giving back in that particular song, as thirty-six cents of every concert ticket sold on this tour will be donated to the Save the Children charity.
Her effervescent spirit, polished stage presence, and vocal strength carried through to her last glittery outfit and confetti-spewing cannon that accompanied her encore performance of "Before He Cheats." Proving her worth on the Nashville country scene, and in all of our iPods, Carrie's live show is what you would expect from a twenty-year veteran, but comes a mere 5 years after her first Fox audition. Looks like America's idol is all grown up.