Thursday, September 10, 2009

10 SEP 09: Carrie Me Back

CHECOTAH, OK - We're preparing this from a public library where we had to show a photo ID. That led to an awkward moment -- but the staff DID allow someone from Georgia to log on, despite last Saturday's football game.

The last time we stopped in Checotah happened to be the day native Carrie Underwood won the 2005 "American Idol" title. From what we can tell, it's still a one-stoplight town -- but that could be changing. At the corner of Gentry and Broadway Wednesday morning, we saw stop signs on a corner waiting to go up.

A sign along Interstate 40 and on the U.S. 69 business route through town remind you of Carrie Underwood's triumph over Alabama's Bo Bice. But there's no big billboard with her smiling face, as there was four years ago. That's what happens when you're snatched into the clutches of VitaminWater.

Carrie Underwood is NOT the focus of Checotah this week. In front of the Carrie Underwood sign on B.R. 69, you're reminded this weekend is "Okrafest." I thought they were doing this in the heart of Chicago -- but then I remembered that's Oprah-fest.

Okrafest dominates the painted windows on stores, in a downtown Checotah that's busy compared to other Oklahoma cities. But they show cartoon characters like Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny endorsing okra -- NOT country music stars. And not even that repentant cookie monster....

One storefront has a large mannequin of Elvis Presley in the window. We found nothing like that Wednesday for Carrie Underwood -- but then again, some love-struck stalker might break the window out, steal it and take it to a concert to be autographed.

We originally planned to make this a "two-star trip," in terms of country music. But when we reached the small southern Kansas town of Sharon, we discovered too late to turn that we'd have to leave the two-lane highway to see the hometown of Martina McBride. Shame on us -- she probably would have sung, "Turn in anyway."

Two signs along U.S. 160 mention the "rose of Sharon" in her hometown. One notes Martina McBride was country music "Female Vocalist of the Year" in 1999. The town apparently can't afford to update the sign, for the three other times she's won that title since then.

A check online shows Sharon, Kansas has a population of only 210. Nothing has been built from the town limits out to U.S. 160 since Martina McBride became famous. Conway Twitty had "Twitty City," but there isn't even a sign pointing to McBride Drive -- because there apparently is none.

I did radio news in northwest Oklahoma in the early 1980s, when Martina McBride was a teenager and could have heard the station where I worked. But her biography shows McBride's father made her a country music fan at an early age -- and my station was just as likely to play Barry Manilow as Alabama. Manilow simply didn't use enough steel guitars in his songs....

CLASSIC BLOG/25 May 05: We're not far from that OTHER "Lake Eufaula," and find ourselves in the middle of a frenzy. Well, as much as a town of 3,500 people can be in a frenzy with a downtown speed limit of 25 miles per hour....

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: Checotah, Oklahoma likely will come to a stop in a few hours, to see if native daughter Carrie Underwood will become the fourth "American Idol." But this town is so small, it probably would come to a stop most evenings around 7:00 p.m., anyway.

A giant billboard of Carrie Underwood greets you as you exit Interstate 40, to take the business road into Checotah. Radio commercials wish her well. Signs all over town root her on.... well, ALMOST all over town. The First United Methodist Church seems to realize it's wrong to promote idolatry.

Carrie Underwood watch parties are planned across Eastern Oklahoma for the big American Idol announcement. Checotah plans to have one, of course. And an "after-watch party" is planned until 2:00 a.m. at a Muskogee, Oklahoma nightclub called "The Wild Cowboy." I'm not sure Carrie's even old enough to go to that one.

(Come to think of it, wouldn't a name like "Wild Cowboy" be more fitting for Bo Bice?)

Alabama's Bo Bice is the other finalist for American Idol IV. But it's clear who the Oklahomans like. In fact, the Fox TV station in Oklahoma City made Carrie Underwood the top story Tuesday night -- complete with the phone numbers you could call to vote for her. The numbers for Bice were NOT shown. So much for "fair and balanced" coverage.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We'll take Friday off from blogging, as we come home and recover from our road trip. May you take time to remember the meaning of Patriot Day -- and please rejoin us this weekend, when our normal format should resume.)

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