In Defense of Carrie Underwood

The problems with 'Sound of Music Live' weren't entirely her fault.

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Will Hart / NBC

Audra McDonald as Mother Abbess, Carrie Underwood as Maria

While the great majority of the 18.5 million viewers who watched last evening’s broadcast of  The Sound of Music Live on NBC tuned in for some good old family-friendly musical theater, another strong (and vocal) contingent had very different motives: Hate watching. Particularly, hate-watching the polarizing casting choice of country star Carrie Underwood in the lead role made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 movie.

The American Idol winner recently told Entertainment Weekly that she has been getting a lot of “hate tweets” for taking on the iconic role (” I would never pretend that I was [Julie Andrews] … I know my place,” she said). There was a proliferation of #snarkofmusic tweets  — many of them discussing the same overarching theme:

But is she really deserving of such vitriol?

I’m going to be the first to admit that I wasn’t too happy to hear that Underwood was cast as Maria. She wasn’t my first (or second, or third, or fourth…) choice, and after seeing the show, my opinion hasn’t changed. Like The Hollywood ReporterVariety,and AP reviews, I think that while she has a good voice (and didn’t have twang that I had feared), Underwood simply didn’t have the acting chops. AP went so far as to state that not only did she lack chemistry but, “Deer in headlights have emoted more.”

(MOREHow Do You Solve A Problem Like Carrie Underwood?)

But is the lackluster performance really Carrie Underwood’s fault? Or rather, was she put in a situation where she was set up to be hated on — and, in some respects, to fail?

NBC needed a big name star to bankroll this $9 million endeavor. So while a Broadway star like Kelli O’Hara or Sutton Foster would have almost definitely given a more polished performance, would they have have secured what must have been a massive sponsorship by Walmart?

And so producers went to Carrie Underwood, a country star the people like so much they once voted her to be an American Idol winner. A further testament to her likability, Underwood didn’t fade after her win but went on to have a successful career that included a gig hosting the CMAs.

While Underwood’s country-music success is undeniable, it probably didn’t play to the tastes of the uber-vocal musical theaterati. Loud snark leading up to the show was inevitable.

On top of the massive stylistic leap from country to Broadway, which Underwood handled well, there was one major factor working against the singer: the woman is not an actress. Underwood was cast to take on one of Hollywood’s most iconic roles, in which the (quite literally) pitch-perfect Julie Andrews will always be imprinted on our minds. That task would be daunting even to a stage or film veteran.

And although a Broadway great probably couldn’t bankroll the project as Maria, they were available for hire for other parts. So inexperienced Underwood was placed opposite Tony winners like Audra Mcdonald and Laura Benanti. Close-up shots did not help hide their varying levels of mastery.

The nature of the show also didn’t do Underwood any favors.

(MOREMaria’s von Trapp’s Grandson on New Sound of Music: Don’t Freak Out, Movie Fans)

A better environment for a green actress would allow for reshoots and on-the-spot directing. The Sound of Music Live was, well, live. And although Underwood is a talented live performer, one crucial ingredient that makes for an infectious show was missing: an audience. There were no roars of applause or laughs to feed off of — the actors were thrust into a dead space to perform a Broadway show that was presented as a television event. Oy.

So did I love Underwood’s performance? No. But do I blame her? Not really.

Under these circumstances hate was inevitable.

Of course the descendants of the von Trapp family told ABC News that they had wished producers had picked a more seasoned actress.

“[Our family has] had the conversations of who could play this role better and it was Anne Hathaway, for example,” Myles von Trapp Derbyshire, great grandson of Maria von Trapp, said. “Here’s someone who just won an Oscar for a similar situation [in Les Miserables]. She was able to act and sing.”

Because God only knows Anne Hathaway wouldn’t have received any hate tweets.

96 comments
mrscorgi
mrscorgi

To Time Entertainment Editor, Laura Stampler: We will never know how the 22 million viewers each felt about the performance. I can tell you from surfing different major sites like NBC's and others, at least 270,000 people on one site liked the performance. For goodness sake to speak about her acting chops doing the Sound of Music sounds like she was doing Hamlet or MacBeth. It was the Sound of Music for gosh sakes,  where most of the acting was singing. Julie Andrews was doing the Sound of Music too and not Shakespeare. . Stage acting is a lot more over exaggerated than in film. In the NBC production of the Sound of Music, not only was it the broadway show but it was the show done with close-ups and other camera angles which you don't get obviously on Broadway. Had we seen some of these shots in Broadway shows, I am sure people would have complained even about Sutton Foster. 


Anyway, take a page out of Laura Benanti;s conversation with Seth Rudetsky, both of whom are very experienced broadway professionals and https://soundcloud.com/siriusxmentertainment/sneak-peek-laura-benanti-talks. Here are my observations about my experience with Sound of Music Live


1. After SMASH concluded, I doubted they would ever put musicals on tv again. They did. It was because of the star power of Carrie Underwood. It would not have been done without her.

2. 50 yrs have passed since the Sound of Music  movie was out. Millions of gen exers, millenials and especially today's children were exposed to this story and musical theatre --perhaps never having had that experience before. Many many people liked it and loved Carrie Underwood. 

3. Those of us who grew up with the movie remembered Julie Andrews performance which was great. However, I think due to misinformation from those who knew nothing about the original stage musical or even that there was an original stage musical could not let go of the fact that they thought this was a remake of the movie and were insulted . Though there had been plenty of publicity beforehand, it didn't matter, the comparisons were there.

4. NBC deliberately picked this show and Carrie Underwood because of the impending controversy they knew it would generate (read Neil Meron's piece on how it got started and cast)It worked, it stirred social media and the ratings soared.

5.One statistic I received from one of the stage managers of the production was that if the Sound of Music stage production had filled its seats to capacity at each performance, it would have taken 28 years, to equal the 22 million who turned in on December 5 and the 3-4 million more on December 14. For one night, people who might never have gone to a broadway show got to see a pretty good one for free.

6. There is nothing for Carrie Underwood to be in defense of. I am sure she knew the risks. I give her so much credit and like Michael Buble said, he couldnt understand the negativity, it's easy to criticize the creative process, and lauded Underwood for her taking chances. 

7. I thought it was a cheap shot to validate your overall review of the show by listing other sources which supposedly panned it. Great. Nice and safe behind the critics corner. Please be open to the fact that all the broadway credentialed stars all enjoyed working with her and as they said her non-diva behavior. She is authentic as one person said.

8. Why listen to me. You don't have to. But I grew up in NYC and was one of the lucky ones who had English teachers in jr and sr high who took me to broadway shows so I could experience the magic. I am almost 59, live in Chicago but go back to NYC every year to take in a Broadway show or two. It's still magic. If one or many got hooked on to musical theatre because they tuned in, then it was worth it. Don't we all, even the critics want there to be a continued renewal and love of the broadway musical instead of twerking with a miley cyrus?

9. I really never watched American Idol, nor knew too much about Carrie Underwood until December 5. I loved her as a real innocent in her depiction of Maria. I think I love her even more in her ability to really be a strong woman who has strong values and a love for her fans and for her ability to continue to work on her self, her career and the humanity she shows through her strong commitment to various charitable works. Her acting was fine and will improve. Her voice just blows me away with how vast and sincere it is. 

10. In defense of Carrie Underwood , there were many more people who liked, including critics, than the tabloids told. It's also a sad day when social media allows  some pretty vicious comments like the racist comment about Audra MacDonald on twitter, to be shared but it's also good that so many of the comments were positive. Positive doesn't for me to equal they liked the production but positive in terms of thinking through their comments based on some facts and not on vitriol.

11. I am not an overly religious person but come to think of it I too pray for all those who spewed ignorance, again with the emphasis that feedback is a gift, both positive and constructive. 

12. My wish is that Ms. Underwood continues to learn, grow and take chances and knows that she is appreciated.

backtokansas20
backtokansas20

I thought Carrie Underwood was NOT a very good actress BUT there were glimpses of good acting. She may have potential. I agree that she has not had the acting lessons that others have had, so she shouldn't be treated like she has no talent. She does, but her singing shined through over the acting.  I enjoyed all the other performances. Audra McDonald--wow! The kids were charming. 

NJMike
NJMike

Carrie:  You did a great job and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  I thoroughly enjoyed your performance.  You, and those who played the von Trapp children, had me mesmerized.  The only true criteria for judging a performance is "was it entertaining and enjoyable?"  For me, the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes."

MarkRoyal
MarkRoyal

Carrie was terrific. All this negativity (and percentage-wise, there isn't much) is just people wanting to sound intelligent.  I'd like to see some more of today's "stars" take on a live show that involved acting, dancing and singing, in front of 18 million people...and a half dozen others that would rate their own birth if they could.

jrjsutton
jrjsutton

This is a MUSICAL PEOPLE!!!! hello!! hello!! I would like to see an actor sing those parts!! A LIVE MUSICAL! No she's not an actress but she is a singer!!! This is film you SING in HELLO!!!! SINGing part in this film!!!! Some of you people are crazy! Stop talking bad about her and MIND your own business OR why don't you try out for a part like this and SING AND ACT!!! Let's see you do it!! 

Marvincsmith
Marvincsmith

I thought Carrie Underwood was beautiful, sweet, vulnerable, and touching as Maria.  She also sang beautifully.

Audra Macdonald as usual has a voice like spun gold.

Stephen Moyer, defanged, was a convincing Von Trapp.

All in all, I was entranced and engaged for three hours.  I can't wait for the next big TV event.  Thank you, NBC.

fjs1717
fjs1717

Bravo!  This is an excellent article and spot on with its evaluation of the performance, situation, etc.  Another point is that, since it was live, imagine stopping a performace for commercials.  "Breaking Character" ring a bell with anyone.  It is the reason that (in the good ol' days), commercials were run at natural 'act breaks' for live performance, not every 8 min.  Considering the conditions under which these actors worked, I think they did a credible job (Ms Underwood, Ms Benanti, and the fabulous Ms McDonald were vocally so much stronger than the male leads), and the show was entertaining.  I did like the fact they used the actual stage version, rather than the edited (songs out of order) movie script.

CharlesTitmus
CharlesTitmus

You jerks need to rest or take a deep breath. People need to start somewhere and that is what Underwood did. I personally thought she didn't do too bad and my wife and I really enjoyed the show. If I was to complain it would be that the person playing Von Trapp was way too young. Buy ver all it was a good show.

KelseyGrier
KelseyGrier

It was terrible!! Someone like Samantha Barks( She was in Les Mis and she is a star on Broadway) would have been far better. Underwood can sing, but she CAN NOT act. 


Connie997
Connie997

I think that the Von Trapp family forgot that Anne Hathaway did Les Miserables with plenty of takes.  That was NOT a live performance and she would have failed miserably in the role.  Give me a break!!

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Since I don't watch any broadcast or cable TV, I didn't see the show.  But I've seen both the stage and the previous movie versions and know they tell the same story in different ways (I prefer the movie version since it was far more visually appealing).


The problem, I believe, is with the format in how they presented it.  Live stage musicals are spectacles in and of themselves, albeit confined to a stage.  They don't lend themselves well to a media such as television because much of the stage is not seen as close ups and other camera tricks reduce the audience's view.  The point to a well done stage presentation isn't just the actors, it's the set and the atmosphere it adds to the scene.  It also has a way of smoothing out the rough spots some actors have as they play their roles.


A camera is uncompromising in showing everything - the good and the bad.  It also presents strictly what the director wants to be shown, instead of what a viewer may want to look at.  This is why movies have multiple takes in order for the presentation to be "perfect", at least according to the director's vision.  In a live presentation, they don't have that option, and it lessens the viewing experience because there is no control over what happens through the camera.


So it comes as no surprise that a person known much more for her singing than her acting would be unfavorably compared to a graduate of the Sylvester Stallone School of Acting.  In a live production, she probably could have pulled it off at least enough to avoid the vitriol thrown her way so far.  But in a live production on television, that "deer in the headlights" was shot through the uncompromising rifle of a camera, with the inevitable result being what most people consider to be a bad performance.  I didn't see it.  I don't know.  I just do know, from both sides of the stage and camera, what goes into these things and how they work.


So in the long run, it was casting her in the first place that was the mistake.  Stage acting isn't stage singing, even if some of the latter was involved and even if someone is used to the latter.  I have no preference as to who may have been better, but a novice to the acting stage was not a wise decision.  So someone should fire the casting company that put this troop together, and someone else should offer to send Ms. Underwood to stage acting school if they plan on keeping her around for more of the same.

onlysmartone
onlysmartone

First of all, this review is ridiculous at it's very core.  Anyone who continues to make comparisons between the position Carrie Underwood was in  and Julie Andrews performance in the movie version are utter and complete IDIOTS at best.  Yes, Julie Andrews was perfection as Maria in the movie version.  But, fools, how many takes and re-takes do you suppose it took to get just the perfect expressions and how many times do you suppose she sang the songs before they pieced together the pitch perfect songs?  I'd be willing to bet many dozen if not hundreds.  Carrie had ONE change and vocally she was pretty darned pitch perfect. When singing, she was near perfection.  I agree that the speaking parts were somewhat stiff and "deer in the headlights", but she's not an actress by trade.  Even taking the risk to do this speaks volumes about Carrie Underwood's courage and professionalism.  Something tells me she could give a flawless performance, too, if she had hundreds of chances to get it just right, as the incredible Julie Andrews did.  Face it folks, she alone drew an audience of 20 million viewers.  Stop making comparisons where they don't exist.  You CANNOT compare movie acting to stage acting.  That's a fact.  Another fact is that some people are just haters and nothing Carrie Underwood could have done would have resulted in any different response.  Get over it and move on!!

tomcount047
tomcount047

I'm not a broadway fan, but I love country music.  I'll listen to her sing as long as she does.  You talk failed marriages.

I think her, Mike, and her pups look like the perfect family.  They are sweet!

Koiquoe
Koiquoe

If she had spent her time on her acting skill instead of ragging on Obamacare during the gathering of all those country bumpkins who need Obamacare (aka Country Music Awards), maybe ...

BarbaraWhite1
BarbaraWhite1

I wonder how it would have worked with Lea Michelle as Maria though I loved it with Carrie Underwood 

DelectablyChic
DelectablyChic

I thought Carrie used the wrong type of voice.  Half the time, I was wondering if she'd some day ruin her voice - she wasn't using enough head and too much of her "throat."  LOVED Audra, though.

hotue21
hotue21

I liked it.  It was apparent that Carrie was doing her best vocally..and did the best she could acting-wise.  I'm a big follower of musical theatre.   So, the prospect of seeing a musical like Sound of Music was intriguing to me.  Everyone wants to be a critic.  Obviously, it was not a perfect performance.   Not everyone can be perfect like Audra McDonald.  But, Carrie made it her own.  I give her and the cast props for performing the role...LIVE...which hasn't been done in a very long time.  If anything, this telecast will give audiences a chance to see other musicals on the small screen.  I participate in a theatre board called Broadway World.  When people like something, they make their opinions very apparent.   I sometimes think that the really over-the-top critics can be unfair at times.  It's almost as if they get pleasure in skewering an artist's performance.  But, the general public spoke with some pretty impressive viewing numbers.  Bring on the next television musical!


Read more:
http://www.2inc.net/Costumes-cid-216/Mascot-Costumes-cid-218

AustinTexas1961
AustinTexas1961

I liked it.  It was apparent that Carrie was doing her best vocally..and did the best she could acting-wise.  I'm a big follower of musical theatre.   So, the prospect of seeing a musical like Sound of Music was intriguing to me.  Everyone wants to be a critic.  Obviously, it was not a perfect performance.   Not everyone can be perfect like Audra McDonald.  But, Carrie made it her own.  I give her and the cast props for performing the role...LIVE...which hasn't been done in a very long time.  If anything, this telecast will give audiences a chance to see other musicals on the small screen.  I participate in a theatre board called Broadway World.  When people like something, they make their opinions very apparent.   I sometimes think that the really over-the-top critics can be unfair at times.  It's almost as if they get pleasure in skewering an artist's performance.  But, the general public spoke with some pretty impressive viewing numbers.  Bring on the next television musical!

BroadwayNateNY
BroadwayNateNY

I liked it. People need to STOP comparing it to the original. I did miss the goat puppets though!!!! 

SharonHoyt
SharonHoyt

It was wonderful.


I didn't see any problems with the production since I totally enjoyed it. 

mimiabelle
mimiabelle

Here we go. People are unable to separate criticism of something that a person *did* from criticism of the person's *character*. This dimwitted mob mentality: "I like so-and-so; therefore, this person is perfect and you better not say she isn't  perfect!!!".  Carrie Underwood is very pretty, she has an awesome country-western voice, she has rock-star stage presence at her concerts (I assume), and she's probably a nice person. She also was a grotesque choice for the role of Maria, and her performance was disgusting and an affront to the literally innumerable singers and actresses who could have done a half-decent job. So what? Carrie did horribly. Big deal. No one's perfect. I bet Audra McDonald would stink at singing country western music and prancing around like a 20-something rockstar. Carrie was a big money, corporate sponsor choice. There was no class or taste in the decision to cast her. Not her fault, but still.

ThomHunter
ThomHunter

Fortunately for me, since I tuned in because I wanted to see Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music, I saw what I wanted and was entertained and pleased. When I want to see Julue Andrews in The Sound of Music, I'll play the DVD. Two very talented women. People are wringing their hands out if self-importance, as critics often do.

Orcs2Elves
Orcs2Elves

Underwood was great. You're simply not able to assess her acting ability because of your inexperience in life and within relationships. Your column is a passive aggressive missive, not a defense of Carrie Underwood. Within your column you've just bitched Carrie out rather then providing any intellectual, "Defence of Carrie Underwood".

dgh2o2014
dgh2o2014

I'm not an evangelical.  I'm not a country music fan.   While Carrie Underwood is a country artist, many who do not favor that genre can appreciate her beauty and her amazing voice.   I was very dissapointed in the unfair critiques of her.   She sang amazingly and acted just fine.   I would like to see any seasoned actress do a 3 hour live broadcast and see how they perform.   This was a huge challenge, and Carrie Underwood passed with flying colors.   While I am not a "family" TV type of guy, this production was refreshing amongst all the horrific reality TV that airs daily.   I applaud NBC for taking the risk and I hope this means there will be more special programming like this in the future.   Carrie, don't listen.  I think you were superb and you made no mistakes and didn't miss a line throughout the entire broadcast.

Sadie19
Sadie19

Carrie:  Don't listen to any of this mean spirited stuff.  You were amazing just like we knew you would be.  The entertainment business is so hateful.  We are thankful for your wholesome and beautiful self.  Voted for you then...voting for you NOW!

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

One of the biggest and effective reply to those who would put a God fearing Christian lady Carrie Underwood down is eighteen million five hundred thousand viewers. Take that secularists/atheists.  Not bad for a first time actress, not bad for a singer put down as rube because of her faith. These people would prefer Miley Cyrus twearking on a pole in a nun`s habit.


mrscorgi
mrscorgi

By the way, The Sound of Music Live performed Lindsay and Crouse's book to the letter with the exception of singing Something Good instead of Ordinary People. And in the original stage show, the lonely goatherd was done as a bedroom scene . So many complained they didn't have puppets... sheesh.

babspace
babspace

Actors sing parts on Broadway eight times a week. Three of them are Tony Award winners and were in the show, as well.

You are really dumber than a box of hair.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@Marvincsmith Carrie Underwood is being considered for the next one Carousel. That should keep these idiots mouth shut. 

MarkRoyal
MarkRoyal

@KelseyGrier


Perhaps, Kelsey, but do you think 18 million people would have tuned in to hear and see Samantha (who?) Barks?

CarolMcGuireWhipple
CarolMcGuireWhipple

I agree wholeheartedly on what you said.  Bravo to you..............


tytobia
tytobia

@Koiquoe

Better a Country Music fan instead of "Rap Crap" fan which is probably what you are!

tytobia
tytobia

@Koiquoe

Country bumpkins? You must be a person who likes that "RAP CRAP"

MarkRoyal
MarkRoyal

@mimiabelle    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I know nothing about Carrie Underwood other than that she won that insipid Idol contest.  So, no, I am not supporting her because she is Carrie Underwood.  I think she showed class and guts and did a good job in a very difficult environment.  

KelseyGrier
KelseyGrier

AGREE!! Underwood was terrible for the part of Maria, She looked lost and out of place. Someone like Samantha Barks would have been a great choice. I like Underwood, but she CAN NOT act.

MarkRoyal
MarkRoyal

@ReneDemonteverde   I resent that.  I am a devout atheist, and I loved Carrie in the role.  Why do you have to throw religion into the mix?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@ReneDemonteverde Keep the holly roller stuff out of it, Carrie did fine, has a great voice and is a very pretty girl. faith had nothing to do with her talent.

vanessarachelxo
vanessarachelxo

@ReneDemonteverde What are you rambling about? As one of "these  people" (atheists), I adore Carrie Underwood and thought she did a fantastic job. Most people who watched the show and who criticized her also believe in God (as does most of the U.S.) Similarly, most people who listen to Miley Cyrus also believe in God (for the same reason).


Get a grip.

Koiquoe
Koiquoe

@Connie997 @Koiquoe Bigotry is what they do in red states when they would rather go without healthcare than accept a health law that gives them healthcare because it was passed by a black president. Bigotry is what they do at the Country Music Awards when they ridicule a black president who is trying to see that rural America (their listeners) have healthcare.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@MarkRoyal @ReneDemonteverde Because I love Carrie as a fellow Christian also. It is her being a Christian in the first place that caused all this hulabaloo. Why are you so bothered about religion. Carrie Underwood was the first to thank God for her role.She was the one who said to include you Mark, in her prayers. Blame her not me.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@vanessarachelxo @ReneDemonteverde I did. And came up with my opinion. Not all but majority of atheists are intolerant of people of faith. Perhaps you have faith within you but refuse to see it. But it will come. Carrie is praying for you.