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The country rocker

Carrie Underwood sings All-American Girl with Ashlyn Kitchen, 6, from Palmetto at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. In front of 7,750 enthusiastic fans, Underwood mixed some metal music such as Paradise City in with her country songs.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Carrie Underwood sings All-American Girl with Ashlyn Kitchen, 6, from Palmetto at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. In front of 7,750 enthusiastic fans, Underwood mixed some metal music such as Paradise City in with her country songs.

TAMPA

I have this theory about Carrie Underwood, the Oklahoma-born Barbie who won American Idol a few years back. Beneath the perfect blond locks and sleeping-beauty smile there lurks a rogue rock chick dying to claw out. Don't believe me? Her show setlists and iPod playlist are peppered with metal heroes. Her brassy high notes belong in a Heart song, not a hoedown. Her band is well-versed in the Who. And she loves lasers. Loves them. Not enough evidence? Just wait for her encore.

Until she goes Joan Jett on us, Underwood, who performed at the St. Pete Times Forum on Friday, will dutifully play the part of perfectly packaged country star. In the span of just two albums, the 25-year-old has become one of the best-selling artists of the 21st century. She's cultivated a cute-sexy routine that's kept her hot with Carrie Nation — that is, the moms and daughters who made up the smallish, but loud local crowd of 7,750.

Of course, there were some dudes in the arena, as well, and thanks to Underwood's showcase gams, they seemed to enjoy themselves just fine, too.

After U2's Beautiful Day (rock song!) blasted from the PA system, Underwood took the stage in long black boots and short black dress. She kicked off her 100-minute, 18-song set with Flat on the Floor, a full-throated workout that led into Some Hearts (another rock song!).

The sound was muddy at times. She's not the most dynamic stage presence ("If you want to sing, sing your hearts out!"). And an endless mid-show video of her awards and accomplishments clashed against her humble persona.

But Carrie's smile is big, her voice is bigger and she made a genuine effort to connect with fans. She invited a 6-year-old onstage to sing All-American Girl. She called on harmony-happy opening act Little Big Town to help with Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way (rock song!). And she wasn't stingy with the hits, giving robust takes of Jesus, Take the Wheel, I Ain't in Checotah Anymore and current smash Just a Dream, a lovely war-widow weeper.

But my favorite part, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, was the encore, when she busted out . . . a ferocious take on Guns N' Roses' Paradise City! Cue the lasers, dude! She didn't hold back, either, leaning back and howling like Axl Rose. All fired up, she then kicked into the delicious revenge fantasy of Before He Cheats as video flames licked behind her.

What did I tell you? Barbie wants to be a bad girl. Ken better watch his back.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467.

The country rocker 12/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 3:05pm]

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