Hey, Carrie Underwood, weren't you supposed to be taking the year off?
That's what the country star told her American Idol buddy Ryan Seacrest on the Golden Globes red carpet in January when asked how she was going to follow up the tour for her 2015 album, Storyteller, which had recently concluded with Down Under dates with her duet partner on "The Fighter," Australian Keith Urban.
The answer, she said, was nothing much. "I think I'm going to enjoy a little time with my family and then start writing, maybe, and just seeing what I'm ready to do. I don't know. There's no real plans." She added, "I feel like the house is a wreck. So I'm like, I've got to get this in order."
House-cleaning season is over, apparently — as is hockey season, a crucial concern for Underwood, who is even more hockey-mad than the rest of Music City, as her husband, Mike Fisher, is captain of the Nashville Predators, which just lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.
On Thursday, Underwood will play the Fillmore, a 2,500-capacity venue significantly undersize for a star of her magnitude. (Last time through town, in February 2016, she headlined the Wells Fargo Center.)
The show is part of the mini-est of concert tours. Two dates, with two corporate sponsors: Tickets for Thursday's show and a June 29 date at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles are available only to holders of MasterCard American Airlines Advantage credit cards.
Talking on the phone from Pittsburgh, where she was rooting the Preds on, she says the two-only tour dates are "all about keeping everything special, in a more intimate setting. We won't have our ginormous stage, but it'll still be a big, loud show. We always work to have me see everybody in the audience, but this'll be cool because I'll get to see every face."
Underwood is in an in-between stage. "I've been writing, trying to figure out what I want the new music to sound like, and going to hockey games," says the singer, who has a 2-year-old son, Isaiah. "This summer will be dedicated to new music and just being creative."
On Billboard's Top Country Songs chart dated June 24, Underwood's duet with Urban on "The Fighter," from his 2016 album, Ripcord, is No. 4 with a bullet. There's not another woman in the Top Ten.
Going back to the revenge saga "Before He Cheats," on her 2005 debut album, Some Hearts, Underwood, who typically cowrites about half of her material ("If I get sent a bunch of incredible songs from other writers, I'm not too good to say no"), has frequently recorded songs about characters who need to assert themselves.
"I love songs that are about women who are kind of pushed to a point where they need to stand up and do something for themselves," says the singer, 34. "That's just what I like, what I gravitate towards."
Does she feel fortunate to be a regular on country radio, while other talented women are ignored?
"That's a question that, honestly, I think people have been asking for ages in country music," she says. "I would love to see the radio full of women all over the place in country music. I do consider myself blessed and lucky that I get to do what I do. I think the conversation has been started and lots of people are talking more about it. There are a lot of talented women in country music, and a few more of them need that big break."
Underwood grew up in Checotah, Okla., but was born in the nearby town that Merle Haggard made famous..
"I am an Okie from Muskogee," she says. "That whole area I grew up in, country music was definitely in the culture. If you were shopping in the grocery store, country music would have been playing."
She started singing in church when she was 3. By 10, she was pestering her parents to enter her in talent shows. A family trip to Nashville ("The coolest thing ever") for Fan Fair gave her a glimpse of her heroes. "I loved Alan Jackson," she says. "Faith Hill was new then. Trisha Yearwood. I loved Martina McBride."
Underwood heard a broad range of music, thanks in part to sisters who were 10 and 13 years older than she. "I was like the human Barbie doll when I was growing up. They were putting makeup on me when I was 3 or 4 years old. And now I kind of do that in real life," she says with a laugh.
She's practiced at the brand of twang-free pop heard on "The Fighter," due in part to the range of music she heard growing up, including her sisters' Guns N' Roses records. (She has frequently covered "Sweet Child O' Mine.") "My parents both had their favorites," she says. "John Denver and CCR, the Rolling Stones. My dad loves Willie Nelson. Just a little bit of everything."
Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Fillmore Philadelphia