The Totally Relatable Reason Carrie Underwood’s ‘American Idol’ Win Almost Didn’t Happen

When Carrie Underwood won American Idol in 2005, it was practically a foregone conclusion. With all due respect to Bo Bice, she dominated the field throughout the season, becoming one of the unquestioned superstars the show has produced. 

And it almost didn’t happen. This month marks the 15th (!) anniversary of her Idol audition, and she stopped by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to explain how the most mundane of events could have led to the Idol journey ending before it truly began. 

Carrie Underwood performs onstage
Carrie Underwood | Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

Why Underwood almost missed her ‘Idol’ shot

Fans remember her Idol audition, where she sang Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

The audition got more than a little silly when the judges asked the farm girl from Oklahoma to cluck like a chicken, but she did it very well – and the song was naturally, even better. She was off to Hollywood. 

Except she nearly wasn’t. Her plane trip was the first time the then 21-year-old had ever flown. She told Colbert, “It was terrifying. It still freaks me out, to be honest. “I’m 36 years old and I’ve been to lots of airports, but back then I was by myself and there were lots of connecting flights to get there.”

Unfortunately, one of those connections was late, and she ended up missing a flight. She recalled, “I’m on the phone with whoever our contact person was and I’m like, ‘Please don’t kick me off the show!’ But I made it!”

Underwood goes supernova

While no one questioned the quality of her voice, Underwood did have an Achilles heel at first — her lack of stage presence. At that first audition, Randy Jackson said she needed to be exude a little more energy. 

She took the tip, and by the time she performed “Alone” by Heart, she was already on the ascendancy. But that rock song wasn’t in her country wheelhouse, so the question was, could she pull it off?

The answer was a resounding yes, with Simon Cowell telling her, “I will make a prediction. Not only will you win this show, you will sell more records than any previous Idol winner.”

His prediction was correct. Flash-forward 10 years later, and she was performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for the legendary Linda Ronstadt, another singer who successfully bridged country and rock. No less than Stevie Nicks lauded Underwood for her performance of “Different Drum,” one of Ronstadt’s early hits. 

What is Underwood up to these days?

Most recently, Underwood released her sixth album, Cry Pretty, which made her the only woman to top the Billboard 200 with four country albums.

Altogether, she has sold more than 65 million albums around the world, giving her a net worth of an estimated $200 million. She has won seven Grammys and has been the top-selling Idol winner since 2014.

In her career, the closest thing to major blight was in late 2017 when she suffered a fall at home, broke her wrist and needed several facial stitches. 

She’s come a long way from the time when she landed a label deal at Capitol before American Idol, but nothing ever came of it because there was a change in management. Now she records for Capitol Nashville. That’s a heck of a way to complete a circle. 

“I don’t really know what I thought was going to come of it,” she told Colbert of her Idol audition. “It was just kind of like, I saw the auditions on the news happening in other towns so I thought, ‘Why not?’ Worked out all right.”

“That’s the shortest autobiography I’ve ever read!” Colbert replied.