If anybody can understand the whirlwind life that Lauren Alaina has been thrown into since her run on 'American Idol,' it's the show's fourth season winner, country superstar Carrie Underwood. "It’s been really hard because I’m gone away from home all the time," Alaina tells Taste of Country of her post-'Idol' life. "I asked Carrie how she handled it."

"She was like, 'You know, you just have to remember that they love you no matter what. They’re your family and they’ll always be there for you, and it makes it really special when you get to go back and see them,'" Alaina continues. "It’s very true because when I asked her that, I was just starting out, right after the show had ended. Now when I get to go back and see them, it makes it 10 times better, when you get to see your family and they’re excited to see you."

"It was tough for me at first, but I’m getting better at it," Alaina admits. "I get to bring [my family] places now, which makes it really special. I just have a lot more freedom now that I’m not living in California, and I’m kind of doing my own thing. [Carrie] just told me to hang in there and that things would start being better on me. And she’s right. They are getting better every day."

Just in the past year alone, Alaina has scored a No. 1 album on iTunes, a Top 5 album on Billboard's Top 200 all-genre chart, two hit singles, plenty of TV time and the chance to share stages with several high-profile artists who she grew up idolizing.

"I think that everything that’s happened to me in the past year … I mean, it just doesn’t happen all the time," Alaina says with sincerity. "People don’t just get their dreams [to] come true over night like mine did. I got to sing with Martina McBride in front of 70,000 people … I got to sing with Carrie Underwood on 'American Idol,' and they are like two people I look up to a lot as far as music goes and their lifestyle choices. It’s really cool to be welcomed into this country music family. I got to go to award shows and sit with all the people I grew up listening to … it’s like everything that happens to me now, I have to pinch myself because I can’t believe it."

Next year is already shaping up to be just as successful for the singer, who turns 17 next week. She has been hinting around that fans can catch her on the road opening for a big tour in 2012. In the meantime, click here for a complete list of dates where she will be performing before the year is over.

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