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Road to the CMAs: Carrie Underwood, from Checotah to superstar, still an Oklahoma girl

KTUL

Road to the CMAs is brought to you locally by Hard Rock Hotel.

CHECOTAH, Okla. (KTUL) -- An Oklahoma native is once again co-hosting the Country Music Association Awards. Our own Neile Jones dropped in on Checotah to find out more about Carrie Underwood's rise to fame from those who know her best.

For this made in Oklahoma superstar, it all looks so easy. But the glitz and glamour of her life today are the results of the hard work Carrie Underwood has put in since her days as a school kid in Checotah.

From those first days in class, Carrie's music teacher quickly realized this wasn't just another student with dreams of hitting it big.

"She has this big solo and just blew it out of the water it was awesome," said Kathy Cooper.

A fourth grader with a set of pipes.

"She was your typical little girl," said Cooper. "Loved to talk and she'll admit I used to have to tell her to be quiet. She loved to sing obviously, but she was just a normal kid great kid."

Besides Carrie's big voice, Cooper remembers a little girl with a big heart and serious work ethic, but despite all of that her mother says she never brought home the grand prize.

"She never did win talent shows, but she always had a talent so that's OK," said Carole Underwood.

For years Carole drove Carrie anywhere and everywhere.

According to the proud mom, "We, you know, worked hard all her growing up years to cultivate that talent and when she went to college, we decided that, you know, if nothing happens where your singing is concerned by the time you graduate from college then you can get a real job."

A student at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Carole's daughter learned of auditions for American Idol in St. Louis. Carrie made the cut so the family headed to Los Angeles.

"There were all kinds of people on the sidewalks and we met Jesus Christ out there," said Carole, laughing. "I think she was nervous because it was just completely out of whatever she had been used to."

Then finally in 2005 after all those years without wins, Carrie Underwood won big.

"It was amazing the night that she won, absolutely amazing," said Carole. "And you know, then it was kind of like now what? Now what? Now, what do we do? But it was a well-oiled machine. By that time they had everything laid in place to say this is what you gotta do next."

Now some 12 years later Carrie is a bonafide superstar, and before you start to think she's forgotten her roots, friends and family say think again.

"You know, there's always people that say 'well she doesn't ever do anything.' Anytime you need money or something for this community she'll come through," said Cooper.

Carrie has helped bring Checotah more than $100,000 worth of new musical instruments, built a new playground for Marshall Elementary, funded a no-kill animal shelter with a spay and neuter clinic. She's even behind the computer lab at the new high school, one most facilities can only dream of. And the list goes on and on.

"I just always use her as an example," said Cooper. "She set her mind and she did what she set out to do, and you can do, doesn't matter if it's in music or what. Whatever if you set your mind to do it you can do it."

According to Carrie's mom, Carole, "She tries her very best to just be the same person that she was. She loves to come home. I got tickled at her one night we were taking the dogs out to go to the bathroom and she said, 'You know the stars are so much brighter here.' And I'm sure they're not, but you know."

Through Carrie's organization, The Checotah Animal, Town and School Foundation or C.A.T.S Foundation, she has also helped her town with a splash pad park, scholarships for students and more. It's not something she brags about. It's just something she does.

Her mom says thanks to technology she talks with Carrie in some way almost every day.

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