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Extending her fame well beyond TV show, Underwood hasn't lost neighborly charm
Having blossomed into one of country music's true superstars, Carrie Underwood is one of the most successful alums of "American Idol." Shown performing at this year's CMA Awards show, Underwood is scheduled to appear in concert Saturday night at Billings' Rimrock Auto Arena.

Country superstar Carrie Underwood is really, really … nice. She loves animals, believes Americans can think for themselves and says "hello" to reporters' mothers via phone interviews.

The winner of "American Idol's" fourth season will perform at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetrPark in Billings at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Special guest Little Big Town is also set to play.

"I don't think we get to come through Montana all that much," Underwood said. "It was a stop we wanted to make, come hang out with you guys."

Raised on her parents' farm in rural Checotah, Okla., the singer-songwriter didn't set out to become a famous country musician. Before her appearance on "American Idol," she took a break from singing to attend college, graduating magna cum laude in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication.

"I didn't have to take a break from singing," she said. "It's not like a practical job. … At least in my family, you go to high school and graduate, you go to college and graduate and get a job. Dropping everything and moving to Nashville and becoming a big country singer - it all seems like a big dream.

"There's nothing wrong with having dreams. In my mind, you've got to be responsible, too."

And despite her rise to fame, Underwood has remained responsible and very down to earth.

"I think everything, all the good stuff that happened, was definitely a surprise to everybody," she said. "When you come off 'American Idol,' everybody has just one shot to get everything right."

Underwood took her shot and made it.

"After that, I think sustaining is just the important thing," she said.

The multi-platinum selling recording artist and multiple Grammy winner has had a hand in writing some of the songs she performs.

"There's a completely different satisfaction when you write the song yourself and get to sing it," Underwood said. "There's that much more to be proud of."

When she hits Billings, audiences should be prepared for some powerful songs from the singer. They're her favorites.

"I love singing the kind of powerful, emotional ones because they're the ones that really help people and can change their lives," she said. "They're the ones that people come up and tell you stories about how it helped them through something."

There may be a message in Underwood's songs, but she doesn't want to beat the public over the head with her beliefs or viewpoints. She spoke out against the celebrity endorsements during the recent election, saying those celebrities weren't giving Americans enough credit.

"I'm just calling Americans smart," she said. "I think more celebrities should encourage people to do their homework and make the decision that's best for them instead of just saying, 'Vote for who I want you to vote for.' "

A passionate vegetarian, the 25-year-old doesn't push that viewpoint on others, either. Growing up on her parents' farm, Underwood grew to see the cattle they raised as pets, not livestock.

"They were just like my dogs," she said. "I named them. I had ones that we'd bring into the yard if something happened that wasn't really supposed to and I'd bottle feed them and things like that. They were just like big dogs to me."

But the "World's Sexiest Vegetarian" (as honored a second time by PETA) doesn't tell others to change their dietary habits.

"I'm very passionate myself about vegetarianism," Underwood said. "All my family eats meat, all my friends eat meat, every guy I've ever dated eats meat."

The "guys she's dated" includes celebrities like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and "Gossip Girl" star Chace Crawford. But she considers them, and everyone, to be ordinary people.

"The biggest thing I've realized since being in this world is everybody's just a person," she said.

And she's glad to meet the people of Billings.

"We're just excited about heading in your direction," Underwood said. "We're looking forward to a rowdy crowd out there."