Now that Carrie Underwood is no longer an unknown singer from Oklahoma -- now that the American Idol winner has two multiplatinum albums and two Grammy awards to her name, one of the questions she gets most is:
"What does it feel like to be famous?"
How do you answer that?
"It's just awkward," Underwood said. "I don't really know how to answer it. ... It's like, 'Oh, it feels great.'"
Underwood said from the start she never really knew what to expect. She wasn't prepared to win the fourth season of American Idol or for her record-setting 2005 debut album, Some Hearts, to sell more than 7 million copies.
Her second album, Carnival Ride, is double platinum, and her current tour with country star Keith Urban is selling out arenas around the country. They perform at the 1st Mariner Arena on Wednesday.
"I don't think I knew what I was getting myself into, but I don't think I tried to imagine what it was going to be like, either," she said. "It's just been fun. I've met a lot of really great people, and I get to do what I get to do."
In the past couple of years, Underwood has grown more comfortable in her career. But she has no illusions about the music industry and the forces behind it. She knows at the end of the day, they want to sell records.
"It's all a well-oiled, finely tuned machine," she said. 'Everybody has their own part in the machine. It's a little hard I think sometimes to make sure everybody realizes that every little part in that is a person."
Songs on Some Hearts ranged from the hit "Jesus Take the Wheel," a track about a person who asks Jesus to save her from a car accident, to the single "Before He Cheats," a tune about a woman bashing her ex-boyfriend's car with a Louisville Slugger.
Though it's hard to say which song people associate Underwood more with, she hopes it's the first one.
"I think people have more of the 'Jesus Take the Wheel' image in their head," she said. "It's definitely closer to who I am than somebody wielding a baseball bat."
Some Hearts sold so many copies that it set a record for a solo female country singer's first album. It also netted Underwood four Grammy nominations and two awards, for best new artist and best female country vocal performance.
When Underwood finished recording Carnival Ride, she says she was concerned it wouldn't match the smashing success of Some Hearts. She had to remind herself to relax and hope for the best.
"After being worried about it so long, I had to say, 'All right, I'm not going to worry about this anymore," she said. "I'm going to make the best album I can make, and I'm going to make it full of songs that I love and that I love to sing and cross my fingers."
Underwood co-wrote four of the 13 songs on Some Hearts -- a first for her, she said. But unlike the first American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, she's not concerned about having total control over the songwriting process.
"Point blank, the best songs win," Underwood said. "I'm not going to be somebody that's like, 'Oh, I have to have every song be something that I wrote or I co-wrote be on there. Chances are, I'd end up with an album that probably wasn't as good as it could be."
It will be a while before Underwood gets back in the studio, she said. This year, she's concentrating on touring in support of Carnival Ride and has little time to focus on the next record.
"I hope things keep getting bigger and better, and hopefully, I'll have some massive tour someday," she said.
"We're working our way up. We're not going to stick me in something that's way over my head. I don't want that either. I'm still learning."
Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban perform at 1st Mariner Arena at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $43-$73. The arena is at 201 W. Baltimore St. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.