In the three years since Simon Cowell predicted she’d kick Billboard butt on every other winner in American Idol history, Carrie Underwood has done just that: She’s sold more than 9 million CDs and won upwards of 30 industry awards. Still, ask her what the best part of success is and she’ll cite the ability to hit Tiffany’s to buy some “shiny things” for her mom and sisters. “And when I go back home and go out to eat with people, I’ll pick up the check. It’s nice to be able to do stuff like that.”
Underwood spent the flash of free time she’s had between the October release of her latest album, Carnival Ride, and the kickoff of her 24-city tour with Keith Urban in late January doing stuff like playing flag football with pals in Nashville and finally decorating the house she bought after her Idol victory with the antique Italian furnishings she loves. Carnival has already sold more than 2 million copies—and Underwood is up for two more Grammy awards on Feb. 10. And yet, arriving for a photo shoot with PEOPLE, she seems in many ways like the girl from small-town Checotah, Okla.: warm but reserved. She cuddles her rat terrier Ace, lovingly licking her finger at one point to get, as she says, “the gunk” out of his eye. In a candid interview, she talks about everything from staying red-carpet gorgeous (she keeps a food diary and writes down everything she eats) to someday having kids—or not (“I’m not so great with babies”)—to the constant tabloid focus on her love life. As she notes, “There’s a lot of fabrication.” Translation: She isn’t seriously dating Gossip Girl hunk Chace Crawford, although they have gone out a few times. So relax, Ace. For now you’re still the main guy in her life.
Multiplatinum CDs. Grammys. How long ago does American Idol seem?
“A very long time ago. So much has happened since then that it’s amazing to think, ‘Oh my gosh, I did that.’ The things these people are going through now, I know what they’re feeling.”
So you watch the show now?
“Definitely! It’s great!”
When you got your first big paycheck, what did you do with it?
“Nothing! I put it away! I still constantly ask my business manager if I’m doing okay. I did buy my house. And I did get this 19th-century Italian mirror that I love. I don’t even know how much it cost, but I know I would never have bought it before.”
What’s your style at home?
“I love finding beautiful things that are 300 years old. I love French and Italian stuff, but a lot of those things have naked babies on them, and I feel weird about having naked babies on my walls! I don’t want pictures of naked anything in my house!”
What do you think about all the young celebs getting into trouble?
“I feel bad for them. It’s due to lack of people talking to them about their lives. If I ever started acting crazy, my mother would say, ‘Stay in more! Rent a movie or something!'”
Have you ever been to a crazy celeb party that shocked you?
“Not really. I went out one time in New York and you could smell marijuana. I’ve honestly never seen anything other than marijuana.”
How do you handle having your body scrutinized by the media?
“Like everyone else, I’m working on just being happy with myself. I try not to pay attention. For every appearance I have a skinny dress and a fat dress, something tighter and an alternative that’s a little looser.”
Is it true you keep a food diary?
“I do. The snacking you do adds up. If you set a limit, you’ll think, ‘Do I really want to blow 250 calories on a candy bar, or would I rather save it for when I’m actually hungry?'”
Family is clearly important to you. Do you think you’ll have kids of your own someday?
“I don’t know. Babies are probably inevitable at some point, but a very, very long time from now. I don’t really know what to do with babies. I’m better with older kids.”
So, straight from the source: Is one of your goals to get married?
“Definitely! That’s why we’re here on this earth, to meet that special someone. But I’m not looking, and I don’t have a deadline. But yeah, you have to have someone to love.”