Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Gone country

During the American Idol series finale, Carrie Underwood returned to the stage where her dream came true in 2005. This photo was taken when she sang "Something in the Water," the lead single from her Greatest Hits: Decade #1 album.
Before American Idol hit TV screens, my taste in music was limited to whatever was in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. The show’s varied theme weeks changed that by exposing me to genres I might never have paid attention to otherwise, like country music.

It was season four of Idol. Hollywood Week was almost over, and the contestants were preparing for their final solos. I had yet to pick a favorite then, so I was focusing more on my potato chips and soda than any of the performances.

But when Carrie Underwood began to sing, her blond hair gleaming under the stage lights, I forgot about my food. A potato chip fell from my open mouth as I stared at the screen, but I made no move to brush it off my lap. I didn’t know the song Carrie chose, but that didn’t matter. I was still entranced by the way her voice made the lyrics come alive.


Even after the show ended, the lyrics of Carrie’s song were still ringing in my ears and heart. I felt compelled to identify it, so I rushed to the nearest computer and ran an internet search.

I opened a browser window and typed in what I could remember of the lyrics: “Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing. Let the whole word know that today is a day of reckoning.”

I discovered that the song was called “Independence Day” and it was originally by country singer Martina McBride, who Carrie named as her favorite during her first audition. When I read the song’s lyrics in full, I realized they told a story that hit close to home.

“Independence Day” is all about how a woman responds to domestic violence as seen through the eyes of her little girl, and the lyrics brought back many painful memories from my own childhood. I looked for Martina’s version of the song online, and when I found it, I listened to it for days on end, with tears rolling down my cheeks.

That served as my introduction to the country music scene, to songs that told heartfelt and vivid stories, tackling subjects beyond booty-shaking and popping bottles at the club.

Carrie sang “Independence Day” two more times during the competition. Here's her performance of it during season four's 90s week:


She reprised it when she made it to the finale:


“Independence Day” just really struck a chord within me, and I was hooked—not just on Carrie, who became my favorite contestant that season—but on the genre of music she lived and breathed. I started listening to more country songs and discovered artists like Kenny Chesney and his older namesake, Kenny Rogers (who I realized was the voice behind the songs my parents would play during long road trips to the province when I was a kid).

Some weeks after Idol’s season four finale, I was browsing in a record store when I saw Martina’s face staring up at me from a rack of CDs. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I snatched up the album and it turned out to be Timeless, a collection of 18 old-school country songs covered by Martina. That album turned me on to some of the genre's greats, like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

Some people made fun of me for liking country music. They couldn't understand why I was totally enamored by artists practically no one else in the Philippines had even heard of. But I didn’t care. I had gone country thanks to Carrie, and no amount of teasing would stop me.

Country music touched something deep inside me, and at the end of the day, that’s what music—and American Idol—is all about.

All photos courtesy of American Idol; all videos courtesy of their respective YouTube channels.

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