She's one of the most successful country singers of her generation and one of the genre's most polished performers, but 12 years ago today (June 10, 2005), Carrie Underwood was just a shy kid who was about to debut on the Grand Ole Opry.

The singer was nervous. She had just won Season 4 of American Idol on May 25, and after taking a couple of weeks to see her family in her native Oklahoma, she came to Nashville for her big debut. She performed two songs on the hallowed stage that night; "Inside Your Heaven," which she released as her debut single after winning Idol, and the Roy Orbison classic "Cryin'," which she had performed on the show.

Underwood wasn't sure how she'd be received at such a country music institution, but she won over the crowd immediately, earning thunderous applause. "It's kind of magical," she said on the side of the Opry stage after finishing her set. "I don't feel like I deserve this at all."

It was a moment Underwood had dreamed of since she was a little girl, even growing up in Checotah, Okla., without cable television. "I don't even know how, but I always knew what it was," she says of the Opry. "You don't have to see it or hear it, you automatically just know what it is. That's how legendary it is."

The singer's debut album, Some Hearts, became the best-selling album of 2006 across all genres in the U.S., powered by hits including "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and "Before He Cheats." Her sophomore album, Carnival Ride, placed four No. 1 singles, including "So Small" and "Just a Dream," and on March 15, 2008, Randy Travis surprised Underwood with an invitation to join the Opry. Garth Brooks inducted her on May 10, 2008.

"It means a lot to me because it’s the heart of country music," she observes. "The church, the sacred place, the super-elite club that says you love this music."

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