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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisFor the past three years, Carrie Underwood's had no problem selling out the summertime staple Ravinia, though this year she added a mighty twist to the plot. Rather than simply being backed by her regular eight piece band, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra added flourishes of grandeur to an already pleasant blend of contemporary country and pop. Underwood showered those players and the venue with compliments, wishing she grew up near a similar cultural mecca, though she was also quick to praise her small town Oklahoma upbringing.
Throughout the 90 minute night, it was apparent just how far the 28-year-old has come as throngs of young girls through their parents (and everyone in between) hung on her every note. Though Underwood's songs themselves are fairly safe sounding, her ability to belt out each word with abandon is her strongest attribute, not only leading her to sweep season four of "American Idol," but becoming the best selling artist in the program's history.
After opening with the gritty "Cowboy Casanova" and "Quitter" backed by the booming string section, she gave the extra players a break on the blander in comparison "Some Hearts" (originally cut by "Someday, Someway" hit maker Marshall Crenshaw). Underwood spoke of her teenage songwriting desires prior to "Temporary Home" and proved she was up to the task with a positive message about making the most of even the bleakest of circumstances.
"Jesus Take the Wheel" served as her ultimate inspirational anthem, which flowed into a cleverly arranged chorus of the gospel standard "How Great Thou Art" that actually earned the most thunderous applause of the entire show. It was too bad she didn't engage fans in the entire version, though now with three albums under her belt, there was plenty of original material to highlight. "All American Girl" and "Last Name" were amongst the other crests, respectively giving the ladies a hearty dose of empowerment and the guys a chance to relate over a night of too much partying.
Underwood also encored with a bang thanks to a super-charged rendition of "Before He Cheats" and the equally resplendent "Songs Like This," but once again her powerful pipes superceded the commercially-minded material. No matter what style she chooses to sing in the future, her star is likely to shine brightly thanks to a model-like appearance, down to earth attitude, plus the ability to blow her peers away with sheer vocal poise and power.
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