How country music's biggest artists and moments in the 2000s shaped the genre forever.

By Katie Quine

While country music saw a great revival in the 1990s, the genre’s fan base had even more room to grow in the new millennium. Popular singing competition shows like American Idol and Nashville Star showcased the talents of small-town artists on television screens across the nation.

From small-town Checotah, Oklahoma, Carrie Underwood was the first country artist to emerge as an American Idol winner, charming judges and audiences alike with her down-home demeanor and big-time vocals in 2005. She became the first country musician to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with her first single, “Inside Your Heaven,” and hasn’t slowed down since. A consistent chart-topping soloist whose style nods to that of traditional artists like Randy Travis, Underwood became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2008.

American Idol’s country counterpart, Nashville Star played a role in launching the careers of several hit-makers, too. Finishing third on the inaugural season of the show in 2003, Miranda Lambert has established herself as a true entertainer with a mix of rebellious and poignant lyrics ranging from “Gunpowder and Lead” to “The House That Built Me.” From 2010 to 2015, she reigned as the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, breaking all records set before her. Three years after Lambert appeared on the show, Chris Young won Nashville Star. A baritone with a penchant for ballads, Young made his Opry debut just a month after his win and was inducted as the Opry’s newest member on October 17, 2017.

It’s no coincidence that crossover songs dominated the charts just as these TV shows were making country fans out of younger audiences. Hits in the early 2000s like Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” and Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most” are both still consistently played on country and adult contemporary radio stations.

Evident even in the Countrypolitan music of the 1960s, crossover isn’t a phenomenon unique to the new millennium, but artists like Taylor Swift changed the game. After releasing her first single, “Tim McGraw,” at the age of 16, the breakout artist had a flurry of hits to her name in the years to follow. Swift began to experiment with pop-country songs on her sophomore album Fearless — which had 13 songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a new record — before transitioning to pop-fueled albums in the next decade.

Even as crossover has continued to take hold, virtuosos like Brad Paisley and Josh Turner have evoked the time-honored sounds of traditional artists and instilling a love for the music in young artists, such as Season 10 American Idol winner Scotty McCreery. Country always has a way of coming full circle.