LOS ANGELES, Feb 12 (Reuters) ''American Idol'' champion Carrie Underwood's Grammy victories underscored the growing impact the hit TV talent show is having on US pop culture, while the awards telecast even borrowed a page from the series with its own amateur contest.
Underwood, who won season four of the Fox network's blockbuster singing competition, took yesterday home awards for best female country vocal performance and best new artist, becoming the latest in a growing list of ''Idol'' victors to earn Grammy recognition.
''This is absolutely unbelievable,'' Underwood said in picking up the coveted trophy for best new artist. She went on to thank God, ''American Idol'' creator Simon Fuller and various others, including record mogul Clive Davis as well as the television show itself.
''I owe everything to 'American Idol,''' said Underwood, who also performed the Eagle's hit ''Desperado'' and ''San Antonio Rose'' during the telecast.
Underwood's single ''Jesus, Take the Wheel'' also earned a Grammy for best country song, a songwriter's award that in this case went to Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson.
Underwood's victories proved again that ''American Idol'' has grown from a television ratings sensation, ranking as the most watched series in US prime time, into a fertile incubator for new musical talent.
''The truth of the matter is that at the end of the season, someone great who wouldn't have had a chance otherwise, wins this and gets a shot at a career. So we're really happy about her,'' Randy Jackson, one of judges on ''American Idol,'' said backstage when asked about Underwood's Grammy win.
Kelly Clarkson, ''American Idol's'' first champion, took home two Grammys in 2006, and two fellow ''Idol'' champs, Fantasia Barrino and Ruben Studdard, received nominations.
Even some of the losing contestants on ''American Idol'' have gone on to bigger things, including Jennifer Hudson, who took home a Golden Globe for her role in the musical film ''Dreamgirls'' and is up for an Oscar for the same performance.
The Grammy telecast last year lagged in ratings against the popular TV talent show, and this year the awards show ran an ''Idol''-like contest to choose a singer to perform a duet with Justin Timberlake during Sunday's Grammy ceremony.
For the contest, called ''My Grammy Moment,'' a panel of music professionals narrowed the field to 12 finalists and then invited online viewers to see video submissions, biographies and photos of the 12 hopefuls, and vote for their five favorites online at http://music.yahoo.com/mygrammymoment/ Fans then narrowed the field to three finalists, who got to rehearse with Timberlake the week before the show. Timberlake's ''FutureSex/LoveSounds'' album is vying for album of the year.
Grammy viewers were repeatedly asked during the show to vote for their favorite contestant online or via text messages as the three finalists were shown sitting in the audience.
Clarkson created a stir by failing to acknowledge her ''Idol'' breakthrough when she received trophies last year for best pop vocal album and best female pop vocal performance.
REUTERS PDM HS1025