UPDATE: With the Wall Street Journal reporting that Coldplay, Katy Perry, and Rihanna are the 3 acts being considered for the gig but being asked to contribute some of their post-gig tour earnings to the NFL, it appears this rumor was unfounded.
Last Wednesday, sports gossip blog Terez Owens claimed that country superstar and Season 4 American Idol champ Carrie Underwood “most likely will be doing the super bowl [sic] halftime show this year.” We’ve deliberately held off on posting about this while waiting for a source with more of a track record, but now that Carrie’s fiddle/mandolin player and backup singer Jimmy Herman has acknowledged the rumor with a wink, it seems worth considering.
It’s tempting to see his Facebook post as confirmation. But Carrie runs a pretty tight, generally leak-free ship and it’s a little hard to imagine her informing her band about what would be the biggest gig of her career yet without strict instructions to keep quiet. She has also traditionally been extremely respectful of official rollout plans and it’s hard to imagine her relaxing that stance for the Super Bowl. Her band is likely on retainer in 2015 anyway in anticipation of new music promotion (Carrie has been hard at work writing for her 5th album all year, and hit the studio to start recording in July) and a tour, so Herman may just hopeful wishing along with fans.
UPDATE: Herman has now deleted the Facebook post. Make of that what you will. Also, last Wednesday, the official CMA account tweeted a call to “RT if you want @CarrieUnderwood to be the halftime performer at the Super Bowl” (here’s a screencap) before deleting it within a half hour. It’s possible they were asked to take the tweet down by Carrie’s people, as Carrie was working with Brad Paisley on CMA Awards promos that day.
But absent a denial from Carrie’s camp, let’s consider the possibility. IF this happens, there’s no understating what a HUGE career milestone this would be for Carrie. It’s a gig that has gone to rock legends like Prince, the Rolling Stones,Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Who, and Bruce Springsteen, and pop icons like Madonna and Beyonce. Only twice before has the gig gone to a country headliner: in 1994 when Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, and The Judds each performed tunes and in 2003, when Shania Twain headlined with additional performances from No Doubt and Sting.
If it is country’s turn again, and it very well may be in light of how much the country market has done to mainstream itself, then Carrie brings a unique combination of industry/critical acclaim, mainstream appeal, sales, history as a TV ratings draw, imagination with respect to visual production, and live experience that makes her the logical and fitting pick for the Super Bowl halftime show.
Super Bowl XLIX will take place on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona, just a few months short of the 10th anniversary of Carrie’s Idol victory. Since winning Idol, she has sold 14.7 million albums in the US, around 30 million downloads in the US, won 6 Grammy Awards in addition to 5 CMA Awards and 10 ACM Awards (she will be presented an 11th for special achievement next month), become a member of the Grand Ole Opry (in 2008), co-hosted country music’s premiere awards show, the CMA Awards (this coming November will be her 7th consecutive year), scored 17 #1 country airplay hits on the Billboard &/or Mediabase/Country Aircheck charts (more than any other female in the Soundscan era), become a bona fide arena headliner with 3 consecutive tours to play to more than a million fans (the Carnival Ride tour, the Play On tour, and the Blown Away tour, with increased average attendance per show on each tour), performed sold out shows in Royal Albert Hall in London and the Sydney Opera House in Australia among other venues in the UK and Australia, and played a key role in turning the first live televised musical broadcast on a major network in over 50 years into a ratings smash.
Nobody would deny that Carrie has crafted a really successful career for herself in 10 years. But to the point of her rating a Super Bowl halftime show performance? There are specific milestones and facets to this career to make that case for Carrie, too.
Carrie obviously first grew into the public consciousness by singing live on American Idol, and got many early lessons in handling the pressures of live television back then. Since then, she’s delivered countless times on big TV stages, whether the Grammys, the CMAs, the ACMs (including this viral mashup performance with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler), and the Emmys. Carrie also broke with tradition when she sang the Star Spangled Banner live at Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, rather than lip-synching it as artists have done since 1993. More recently, Carrie impressed earlier this year when she anchored the Linda Ronstadt tribute also featuring Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow during this year’s Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony.
And then there was last December’s The Sound Of Music-Live!, a three hour televised stage production in which Carrie took the lead role of Maria von Trapp (nee Rainer). Whatever criticism there was on the acting front, Carrie’s singing of a difficult score made iconic by the legendary Julie Andrews was nearly beyond reproach, and she pulled that off while doing things like marching up & down stairs during “Do Re Mi” and jumping on the bed during “The Lonely Goatherd.”
Carrie’s no stranger to high pressure live moments, and that sets up well for a performance that will receive as high a viewership and as much scrutiny as the Super Bowl halftime show. Now, what about the show itself?
There’s an expectation these days that the Super Bowl halftime show headliner will be a major pop culture force who puts on a big show. Well, Carrie has developed a reputation for ambitious stage productions both on her tours and on TV.
Carrie’s most recent album, 2012’s Blown Away was her most lyrically visual album yet, and she built her Blown Away tour (see video at link) and several live performances promoting the album around that. The Blown Away tour, for example, featured an on-stage tornado for the title track:
Then there was the projector dress at the 2013 Grammy Awards for the “Blown Away”/”Two Black Cadillacs” medley.
Previous to that, her 2010 Play On tour, which featured a B-stage on an aerial pickup truck that “flew” around the arena, was nominated for the Pollstar Concert Industry Award for “Most Creative Stage Production.”
Meanwhile, while nobody thinks Carrie’s got the on-stage moves of a Beyonce, Bruno, or Springsteen, she has come a LONG way from her Farmbot days on Idol. See, for example, her cover of Guns ‘N’ Roses’s “Paradise City” at the 2013 CMA Fest.
So then there’s the question of whether Carrie is popular enough to rate a Super Bowl halftime slot. Carrie, while undeniably successful and talented, doesn’t have the megastar status of a Beyonce, who headlined the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012, or the legendary status of Prince, Bruce Springsteen, or Madonna. She also doesn’t have the number of pop culture-penetrating hits that recent Super Bowl halftime show headlines the Black Eyed Peas or Bruno Mars do – only “Before He Cheats” crossed over, although “Blown Away,” “Jesus Take The Wheel,” “Good Girl” and “Cowboy Casanova” have all sold more than 2 million downloads. Yet she has more years as a major music star under her belt than Bruno did when he got the call last year, she has a great reputation as a live singer, and she has quietly become a genuinely popular force. That will bring us back to…television ratings.
Ratings & NBC
When Carrie was cast for NBC’s The Sound Of Music-Live, it was obviously with the hope that her name would bring ratings to what was both a huge undertaking and a huge risk – the first televised stage musical on a major network in over 50 years. And she over-delivered, with the tune of 18.6 million live viewers (nearly 21.3 million in Live+3 Day viewing – the show was up against The Big Bang Theory, Scandal, & more) and a 4.6 adults 18-49 demo rating (5.3 in Live+3 day viewing) that was 3 times what NBC executives had predicted and promised advertisers. Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC’s entertainment division told the New York Times: “I’m not sure almost 20 million people would have come out for a lot of other names.” The 2015 Super Bowl will air on NBC, which was the direct beneficiary of Carrie’s decision to join The Sound Of Music-Live.
While the appeal of The Sound Of Music property can’t be denied and the liveness of the show obviously contributed to the monster ratings, the ratings for The Sound Of Music-Live! also cemented Carrie’s status as a ratings draw, especially for family viewing. This tweet from co-executive producer Neil Meron, which was no doubt meant as an ongoing statement of support for Carrie, also acknowledged that:
— Neil Meron (@neilmeron) July 11, 2014
So do these numbers from Vulture‘s Joe Adalian:
— Joe Adalian (@TVMoJoe) December 10, 2013
The above markets are all big country markets, and strong concert markets for Carrie.
That’s not an isolated showing for Carrie either. Back in 2009, Carrie headlined a 2 hour FOX holiday special (featuring special guests Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, and David Cook) that drew a respectable 8.5 million viewers and a 2.3 in the Adults 18-49 demo while up against the the #1 CBS monster comedy block (then featuring Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory) and ABC special holiday programming (which Carrie’s special outdrew). Since then, FOX has slotted in a country “awards” show in that timeslot (the American Country Awards), and that show has been rated lower Carrie’s holiday special each year. In 2011, ACM executive producer RAC Clark told Billboard Country Update that though ballads can be a risky proposition for TV ratings,
Carrie Underwood doing ‘Temporary Home,’ a slow ballad but so emotional and such an amazing story, [was] huge in the minutes by minutes [ratings],” for the 2010 ACM show.
It also bears noting that Carrie is familiar to the regular football audience. She is entering her 2nd year singing the Sunday Night Football intro for NBC, and has also filmed a special kickoff video for Super Bowl XLIX. Back in 2006, she also performed at the halftime show for the Dallas Cowboys’s Thanksgiving game.
Consider the above, and whether or not she’s the 1st or biggest name that comes to mind in thinking about possible Super Bowl Halftime Show headliners, it sure seems like Carrie is strong, deserving and logical choice for the gig. If the rumors about her participation are true, then it remains to be seen whether she will headline, co-headline, or be a special guest in the show. If she does snag the headlining gig, then past lineups point to at least one more major performer, and maybe several. In Carrie’s case, she has historically paired well with rock legends like Steven Tyler and Lindsey Buckingham. She could also bring along country pals like her CMA Awards co-host Brad Paisley (with whom she has five studio collaborations, including the 2 million+ selling, #1 hit “Remind Me”) and Miranda Lambert (with whom she has a current hit duet that, if not the best showcase of their respective talents, is a high energy song that goes over well live).
So what do you make of the rumors? If Carrie plays the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, what would you include in her set list, and who would you like to see join her?