Years before Carrie Underwood cemented herself as one of the biggest stars in mainstream country, she found some of her earliest musical inspiration from fellow Oklahoma native Vince Gill.
Before taking the stage to close out this year’s CMT Giants special — a two-hour celebration of Gill’s over four-decade-long career airing Friday night (Sept. 16) — Underwood chatted about her special connection to Gill.
“I feel like we’re extra proud of our home state people,” Underwood tells Taste of Country.
“I remember listening to him from a very young age,” she adds. “He would’ve been on our radio stations in Oklahoma probably the second he had a song out, so it’s been really cool to watch his journey and try to follow in his footsteps.”
Gill’s career skyrocketed in the 1980s and ’90s, charting a string of No. 1 hits including “I Still Believe in You,” “One More Last Chance” and “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away.” At the same time, Underwood began to pursue her dream of singing country music as a career, just like Gill. Everything changed in 2004, when Underwood traveled from her family’s farm in rural Checotah, Okla., to St. Louis for American Idol’s Season 4 auditions.
In the 18 years since winning the reality competition, Underwood has earned 21 No. 1 hits, multiple awards and even collaborated with Gill for a rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” Even after regularly headlining arenas and her own Las Vegas residency, Underwood found herself fighting off a few jitters before taking the CMT Giants stage.
“It’s great to be able to honor somebody like Vince — who obviously is a mega artist — but is also a great guy and somebody I feel like I can call a friend,” she admits. “It’s really cool to be able to honor him, but it makes you nervous because he’s just gonna be sitting over there as you’re singing his songs to him.”
Underwood’s powerful rendition of Gill’s trademark ballad “Go Rest High on That Mountain” earned her a lengthy standing ovation during the taping — including from the man of the hour himself.
You can see Underwood, along with additional performances from Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, Sting, Cody Johnson, Wendy Moten and many more, when CMT Giants: Vince Gill premieres on Sept. 16 at 9PM ET on CMT.