Carrie Underwood plays earlier this year at the Stagecoach Music Festival. (Associated Press photo)
Carrie Underwood’s “Carnival Ride” brings her back to Oklahoma
TULSA – “It’s good to be home,” Carrie Underwood declared Wednesday night from the stage at the BOK Center.
With the wardrobe changes, impressive light displays and final cascade of confetti, the Tulsa stop on her “Carnival Ride Tour” served as an elaborate and sometimes emotional homecoming for the Oklahoma native. The adoring near-sellout crowd, which included many friends and relatives, loudly and eagerly welcomed the country star back to her home state.
The anticipation was palpable as an estimated 11,000 fans counted down to her big entrance. The crowd erupted as the 2005 “American Idol” winner slowly ascended through a trap door beneath the two-level stage and launched into her sassy song “Flat on the Floor” and uplifting early hit “Some Hearts.”
“It really is good to be home,” repeated Underwood, who was dressed in a short, layered purple dress trimmed with black lace. “It’s been far too long. Tonight’s all about having a good time, so please sing along, dance along, clap your hands, stomp your feet.”
From grade-schoolers to grandparents, the eclectic audience enthusiastically obliged. Teenagers and their moms pulled out camera phones to capture the star wailing out her poignant hit “Wasted.” As Underwood, 25, strutted along the runway to a smaller stage out in the crowd, fans stretched to touch her, and those who offered flowers got a polite thank you, even in mid-song.
In between belting her hits, grooving with her eight-person band and making playful conversation with the crowd, the Checotah native carved out some family time. She brought her 5-year-old cousin on stage for the spirited single “All-American Girl,” coaxing the girl into singing along on the big finish.
She carried out her baby nephew during “More Boys Our Meet,” telling the boy, “Help me find Mr. Right, because if he’s anywhere, he’s in Oklahoma.” When the baby started crying, Underwood laughingly rushed him off stage as the fans finished out the song.
As she finished the uplifting “Crazy Dreams,” Underwood again disappeared through the trap door below the stage. While video clips of the big moments in her three-year music career played on giant screens flanking the stage, the star changed into a floor-length blue-gray gown. The elegant evening dress was perfect attire for her heartbreaking ballad “I Know You Won’t” and the stirring fan favorite “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
The full skirt of the gown dramatically fell away to reveal a shorter version as she belted the autobiographical “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore,” which she dedicated to “anyone from Checotah, around Checotah or has been to Checotah.”
She professed a desire to make people in her home state proud as she addressed tabloid reports about her romantic involvements, telling the crowd the only male in her life is her dog Ace.
“I want you guys to know that whoever it says I’m dating, there’s a 97 percent chance I’m not. … I promise my love life is not that interesting,” she said.
A series of musical solos from the band and an array of colorful lights provided cover for another wardrobe switch. The short, sparkly gold dress with its black knee-high boots matched her “what happens in Vegas” hit “Last Name.”
After promising not to change clothes again or bring any other relatives onstage, Underwood settled on a stool with her acoustic guitar. She thanked her fans for supporting her life-changing run on “Idol” and dedicated the emotional song “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” to the crowd.
When she got a bit choked up, she simply smiled, said “I knew this was gonna happen,” and finished the note-perfect performance.
Unfortunately, Underwood played the dedication and her cover of Randy Travis’ “I Told You So” on the small stage at the end of the runway, which meant her back was to about half the audience.
She tapped more emotional material with her current hit “Just a Dream” and “So Small” before ramping up the energy for a big finish with “Get out of This Town.”
But the crowd stomped, screamed and chanted her name until Underwood suddenly reappeared wearing a black leather jacket and jaunty hat with her gold dress.
She proved country girls can rock in her potent encore, first dancing and headbanging her way through a rollicking rendition of Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” and then blasting through her defiant mega-hit “Before He Cheats” as confetti rained on the keyed-up crowd.
Through her two-hour set, Underwood’s powerful voice never sounded worn or weary. She showed she has grown considerably as a performer over the past year.
Not that she needed it, but Underwood got plenty of help from her opening act, Little Big Town. The quartet’s perfect four-part harmony added sizzle to its feisty Southern rockers “Novocaine,” “Firebird Fly” and “Good Lord Willing.”
But the vocal group really got the crowd going with its cover of the 1980s pop anthem “Life in a Northern Town” and its biggest hit, the rowdy “Boondocks.”