A look at Carrie Underwood’s not-so-secret metal past

Many rockist skeptics may have been surprised or even irked when Carrie Underwood was recruited to open for several recent dates on Guns N’ Roses’ summer tour. But the American Idol winner and country superstar proved all doubters and haters wrong with her special rock-leaning setlist — which she curated with advice from GNR frontman Axl Rose himself — that included crowd-pleasing, Bic-flicking covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” Most thrillingly, there was even a rendition of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” that cranked all of her “Before He Cheats”-esque fury up to 11.

Wow. Just imagine how much more exciting Carrie’s American Idol season would have been 18 years ago if there’d been a Motörhead Night!

All kidding aside, anyone who assumed that Underwood would not be able to pull off a rock ‘n’ roll support slot in front of thousands of Gen X headbangers has not been paying attention to her career for, well, the last 18 years. This rocket queen has always been an old-school metalhead. And while the “Jesus, Take the Wheel” singer probably won’t be covering, say, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Satyricon, or Brujeria any time soon, she has officially been welcomed to the hard rock jungle by GNR’s peers and fans, due to her obvious, earnest enthusiasm for the genre.

So, now the big burning question is… where is Carrie Underwood’s rock album? If country queen Dolly Parton can release an all-star rock ‘n’ roll record, surely this country princess can. Maybe all we need is just a little patience, because it seems like an inevitability as this point.

In the meantime, let’s take a look back at Underwood’s unlikely but awesome rock ‘n’ roll journey.

“Alone,” 2005

Despite Simon Cowell’s confident audition-room prediction that Underwood would not only win American Idol Season 4, but go on to sell more records than any other winner in the show’s history, Underwood herself didn’t seem so convinced. The young and green vocalist always seemed utterly terrified onscreen and exhibited very little charisma (Underwood herself has admitted this), and many viewers thought it would be an actual rocker, eventual runner-up Bo Bice, who’d prevail on the finale. But in Season 4’s top 11 week, Underwood suddenly came into her own, channeling her inner Ann Wilson to belt Heart’s unrequited-love power ballad (while rocking some very ’80s-appropriate big hair). To this day, her “Alone” is considered one of the greatest Idol performances of all time. “Throughout this entire competition I’ve kind of been ‘the country singer,’ and I wanted to take a risk and break out of my shell a little bit, so I thought I’d sing an ‘80s rock song,” Underwood told host Ryan Seacrest at the time. This was the first sign that Underwood had the potential to be America’s next superstar… and maybe, one day, even a rock star.

“Patience,” 2006

A year after Cowell’s above-mentioned prophecy spectacularly came to pass, the newly crowned Idol embarked on her first headlining tour — and covered another ‘80s prom song, this time by future tourmate Axl Rose. “I am and always will be a country girl at heart, but it’s nice to just kind of rock out a little bit,” she explained onstage at the Azalea Festival, adding that she “grew up listening to all kinds of music” — including, apparently, the G N’ R Lies album.

“I Remember You,” 2007

Underwood’s first truly viral hard rock performance was of one of the greatest power ballads of the Headbangers Ball era, during which she even managed to nail all those tricky Sebastian Bach power notes. “I’ve seen Carrie Underwood’s cover on YouTube. It is fantastic. … She hits every scream, all that ending heavy metal stuff. She kills it,” former Skid Row frontman Bach told Yahoo Entertainment in 2017. Skid Row bassist Rachel Bolan also approved, describing Underwood’s cover as “pretty f***in’ cool.”

“November Rain,” 2008

Underwood once again indulged her appetite for Guns N’ Roses reconstruction during her Carnival Ride tour, closing most of her shows with GNR’s over-the-top wedding epic — with a bit of “Paradise City” tacked on for extra rawk energy.

“Home Sweet Home,” 2009

Back when “farewell songs” were still a thing on American Idol, playing every week during each eliminated contestant’s video package, Underwood was tapped to record Mötley Crüe’s arena anthem for Season 8 — fittingly, a season dominated by two of the series’ all-time greatest rockers, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta. She also performed the Crüe song on the season finale, the same night that Lambert famously dueted with both KISS and Queen. She seemed right at home, and was on her waaaay, indeed.

“Paradise City,” 2013

Sharing a bill with Brad Paisley, Jake Owen, Lee Greenwood, and the Band Perry at the 2013 CMA Festival, Underwood only had time for four songs, but she made sure one of them was this perennial Guns N’ Roses favorite. The sold-out crowd at Nashville’s LP Field no doubt appreciated her commitment to the bit, complete with fringy bandanna headwrap and hip-swiveling, Axl-esque snake-dance.

Joan Jett medley, 2019

In 2013, Underwood reworked Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” as the Sunday Night Football theme “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night.” But she’d clearly been waiting all her life to duet with the queen of noise herself, judging by how excited she appeared when the two joined fierce forces at 2019’s CMA Fest. There, Jett and Underwood rocked out on not just the original “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” but also on “Crimson and Clover,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “Bad Reputation.” This summer, Underwood revisited the latter rocker-girl anthem on her dates supporting GNR.

Underwood’s surprising I Prevail fandom, 2021

By this point, Underwood’s rock cred was solidified, but in her own career she still stuck to MTV-friendly balladry and classic rock. That’s why she went viral on TikTok when she was asked about her workout playlist during a CBS Sunday Morning interview: She not only revealed that she mostly listens to “metal or super-hard rock music” in the gym, but she specifically named Trauma, by Michigan post-hardcore band I Prevail, as “one that I have on repeat when I’m working out.” While Underwood, who was promoting her Christian/gospel album My Savior at the time, sheepishly warned her more conservative fans that I Prevail’s record featured “a lot of not-children-friendly words” (“That’s important to note — don’t go buy My Savior and then go buy Trauma and be like, ‘Carrie Underwood told me to!’”), her love for the NSFW group was sincere.

Underwood later met up with I Prevail backstage in a “full-circle moment,” and the metal lovefest kept on going in 2022, when I Prevail posted a tweet announcing they’d racked up 56 million streams for their third album, True Power, and Underwood replied on the thread: “I think I was a large number of them!” Fans of both strange-bedfellow artists have been clamoring for a collab ever since.

The Stagecoach Festival, 2022

An even fuller-circle moment occurred at country music’s big Southern California desert party last year. Underwood had been reportedly trying to convince Axl Rose to join her onstage for years, and this sweet child’s wish finally came true during her Saturday headlining set, when the reclusive redheaded rock star made a surprise appearance. Underwood declared it “the greatest night of my life” and profusely thanked Rose for “making this lifelong dream come true.”

But her rock ‘n’ roll dream was far from over. Later that year, Underwood made her own surprise appearance at Guns N’ Roses’ concert in London, and in March 2023, Axl rejoined Carrie onstage at Los Angeles’s Crypto.com Arena for “Welcome to the Jungle” — whetting the public’s appetite, so to speak, for their summer 2023 tour dates.

“Mama, I’m Coming Home,” 2023

Underwood initially recorded Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears weeper during a 2022 Apple Music session, but she went viral again when she performed it on The Howard Stern Show this past May. “I was so excited that you chose this song; I love Ozzy!” Stern gushed to her at the time. Underwood then chucklingly confessed that her own mama was “very much against me listening to Ozzy” when she “was a teenager discovering my own musical tastes. … But I was also like, ‘I feel like you need to listen to some of these lyrics, because it’s not all darkness. There’s a lot of love songs and things that are a lot more melodic and sweet.’” Underwood also proudly revealed that rock’s ultimate stage mama, Sharon Osbourne, had given her personal blessing for Underwood to cover Ozzy’s tune.

Underwood’s surprising José Mangin fandom, 2023

Mangin is one of the biggest personalities in hard rock as the host of “Liquid Metal” on SiriusXM’s Octane channel — but even he fanboyed hard when he learned that Underwood “[knows] who the hell I am” and listens to his podcast, visibly breaking out in goosebumps in his Instagram reaction post. “I love when he takes some deeper dives into metal,” Underwood stated, expressing her appreciation for how Mangin regularly champions newer artists. Mangin told her, “I’m very grateful to have you flying the metal flag” and excitedly accepted her invitation to be a guest DJ on her branded SiriusXM channel, Carrie’s Country, saying: “It would be an honor of mine to come on and infiltrate your fans and their earholes with a bunch of cool, positive, loving heavy metal vibes.”

Hopefully Underwood will one day make her rock record — Denim & Rhinestones & Leather could be the working title — hopefully with an assist from Axl, Sebastian, Joan, maybe Tommy Lee, and of course those I Prevail dudes. Surely José Mangin would put the album in high rotation on Octane. Watch this space.

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