In a way, Carrie Underwood helped Kiley Barter pay for a red, beat-up Ford Tempo back when Barter was an Arkansas high-school kid playing piano and harmonica in Underwood's group, the Star Rise Band.
Those were the days between 2001 and 2003 when a teenage Underwood was just a pretty girl from Checotah. She could sing "Amazing Grace" so sweet, and could rev up car show patrons with oldies and country ditties, yet she still couldn't land a major record deal. That would come later.
During those two years with Underwood, Barter, along with his brother Alfie Barter, played at least two gigs a month. The Star Rise Band once even played up in Pennsylvania. For that tour, the band rented a former Aerosmith tour bus. It made the group seem like rock stars, but definitely had its drawbacks.
"The exhaust was coming up through the bus," Barter recalled, "so we called it the 'Black Lungs Tour,' because you'd go to sleep and you'd wake up in soot and exhaust."
At the time, Barter was a self-proclaimed "dork" who got paid $100 a gig, plus food and lodging. That was more than enough to afford the $1,000 price tag on his "piece of junk" Tempo.
"That was strictly Carrie Underwood money," Barter said.
These days, Underwood is a 27-year-old superstar who has more accolades than Simon Cowell has V-necked shirts. As for Barter, he's 25, and serves as assistant director of bands and orchestra - and director of the jazz bands - at Victoria East High School in Victoria, Texas.
Looking back, Barter recalled a younger Underwood as a beauty with "natural talent," but also a future star in need of overcoming her "timid" ways on stage.
"She was scared as she could be when it came to talking in front of an audience," Barter recalled. "She would perform flawlessly, but she could not find words to speak."
In 2003, Barter left the Star Rise Band to focus on his activities in the high school band, orchestra and choir. He hasn't spoken to Underwood since, though he did see her in concert a few years ago at the University of Arkansas.
"Seeing people singing with her, and knowing the words, and knowing that was her music," Barter said, "it was like, ugh, it killed you inside, because you wish you were up there again."