How Carrie rode her niche to the top

CarrieIt’s no brain stretch to dissect exactly what won Carrie Underwood her American Idol crown. While Gawker may call her Kelly Clarkson Jr. (and they have a point), it’s clear that Underwood’s small-town charm and wholesome smile appealed to a broader audience than Bo Bice’s flip flops and lanky, laid-back ’tude. But what pushed Carrie to the final, final, final round was the fact that, like any good marketer, she knew her niche. From the start, Carrie and Bo both each appealed to their own group of core viewers. Idol has no shortage of young lovelies, but those picked off early went for a predictable mélange of sex appeal and melisma. How many would trade Top 40 for Tammy Wynette? Just Carrie. Same for the guys. It’s no long jump from Anwar’s Stevie Wonder covers to Nikko Smith’s Bobbie Brown impersonation. They split the vote. Ultimately, even Bo shared his niche with Costantine Maroulis. Viewers may have screamed upset when the smoldering giant was booted, but one of them had to go. By the time it was down to the final five—which inexplicably included Scott Savol and Eastern Bloc cheese hunk Anthony Federov—each inhabited their own space. That’s when Carrie’s mainstream appeal carried her to the top. Every drunk with a cigarette lighter and a lungful of air may have hollered for Bice to “Play some Skynyrd!” But girls wanted to be Carrie, boys wanted to date her, and moms wanted to cut her a big old slice of American apple pie.

—Posted by Deanna Zammit

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/Fox