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Checotah gets its Idol in hometown girl

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MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ The small town of Checotah already claimed the title, ``Steerwrestling Capital of the World.'' So what does that make Carrie Underwood?

``She could be queen,'' Mayor J. Hayes suggested, shortly before the hometown girl with the powerhouse voice was crowned an ``American Idol'' on Wednesday.

Hundreds of friends, family and fellow Checotah residents traveled 20 miles to Muskogee to see the final tally of viewers' votes at a watch party for the live two-hour broadcast of the top-rated Fox television show.

A roar went up in the Muskogee Civic Center when Underwood was named the winner, beating out long-haired Alabama rocker Bo Bice.

Far from the glitz of the Los Angeles stage, people in jeans and T-shirts leapt to their feet, climbed atop chairs, whooped and wept with emotion.

Underwood's cowboy hat-wearing grandfather, Carl Shatswell, and Oklahoma's first lady, Kim Henry embraced. The 22-year-old country pop singer's Boston terrier puppy, Hollywood, trembled in her brother-in-law's arms.

``It's wonderful,'' Shatswell said. ``I just wish her grandma could have lived long enough to see it.''

Katie Greer, Underwood's sorority sister at Northeastern State University in nearby Tahlequah, said she was overwhelmed, even though she had figured all along Underwood would win.

``Her dream just came true,'' Greer said.

Many in the crowd spoke of seeing Underwood perform at local events _ in the high school chorus or at Checotah's Old Settlers' Day, an annual event that includes a cow chip throwing contest.

But winning ``American Idol'' means a recording contract and a new red sports car for Underwood.

``I can't believe it,'' said her aunt, Brenda Biles, who recalled Underwood leading the Christmas carols even as a young child on a visit to a nursing home. ``Yeah, I CAN believe it.''

Cassie Prater, the 15-year-old inside Checotah's Wildcat mascot costume, cried with joy until she was ``out of tears'' at Underwood's victory.

Prater proudly noted that she herself landed on three television stations during Underwood's homecoming visit earlier this month, proof that Underwood's fame ``has really changed Checotah.''

Sweating under the heavy Wildcat head, Prater gladly complied when another Underwood fan asked, ``Can we get a picture with you?''

When Underwood sang, her voice soaring with power, goose bumps formed on fan Kimberly Mathews' arms.

``That's how you know they're good,'' said Mathews, who had text messaged her vote for Underwood at least 25 times week as the show approached the finale.
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