In the small Oklahoma town of Checotah, ranchers who gather at Katy’s Cafe for breakfast usually talk about cattle prices or whether the crappie are biting at Lake Eufaula.
Reality television typically wasn’t part of the conversation — until Checotah native Carrie Underwood became a finalist on “American Idol.”
“Carrie is probably the number one conversation right now,” said said 76-year-old Lloyd Jernigan, director of the Chamber of Commerce for the town of about 3,800.
Friends and family of the 22-year-old college senior describe her as a polite, quiet, small-town girl with a beautiful voice.
“She never did do anything out of line,” said Carl Shatswell, Underwood’s grandfather. “You couldn’t ask for any better youngster growing up.”
And while Shatswell described Underwood as quiet and shy, that description changed when it came to her singing.
“I figured she’d make something of it, because she’s sung all of her life,” he said. “She went to Kansas one time and was singing on the bus. Her grandmother and me, we tried to get her to hush up, but the rest of the folks on there, they wanted her to keep singing.
“She was just three at the time.”
Holly Paulsboe, Underwood’s sorority sister at Sigma Sigma Sigma at Northeastern State University, said Underwood was a dedicated member and a good student who also has an eclectic taste in music.
“Some people think she’s strictly country, but there are other genres she likes,” Paulsboe said. “She listens to heavy metal too.”
In 2001, Underwood was the salutatorian of Checotah High School, which has about 450 students in grades 9-12. Principal Pam Keeter said Underwood was always a good student who was dedicated to her studies and her musical pursuits.
“She’s smart, polite, respectful,” Keeter said. “She’s just one of those kids.”
Keeter did recall Underwood sported an unusual look when she delivered a speech at the high school graduation ceremony — a black eye courtesy of a stray softball.
“She was playing softball and ended up with a black eye, and maybe even a broken nose,” Keeter said. “You might look at her and think she’s real delicate, but she’s no sissy. She just came up and gave that speech and kept going.”