Carrie Underwood's Cry Pretty Tour 360 lets fans know she's not just beginning her next chapter, but her best chapter. The visually stunning, sonically transfixing, two-hour-long show seems destined to include her entire catalog. This may be the only area in which the singer comes up short.

Nearly 40 songs were performed in full or during one of two well-rehearsed medleys on Friday night (May 3) in Birmingham, Ala. Most of her new Cry Pretty album was weaved between hit songs like "Cowboy Casanova" and "Church Bells." The album cuts were often highlights and were never introduced with that half-apology many entertainers offer when beginning a new song. For example, "The Bullet" was every bit as stirring as "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and "Something In the Water," the two songs that sandwiched it.

"Drinking Alone" was the show's sexiest moment. A saxophone introduced the transition from "Blown Away" and out came Underwood in a black fedora to perform on a velvet sofa as her bass player stood in the smoke holding an upright. Translucent screens capable of enclosing her 360-degree stage serve as projection monitors, replacing the jumbotrons one expects. For this song, they helped build a smokey 1920's nightclub tableau. They were used most effectively at the beginning of her show.

The stage and those screens are where the magic happens. At any given time and seemingly at any point on her teardrop-shaped stage she's capable of rising up, alone or with bandmates. Hydraulics lift her high enough to be eye-to-eye with those in the upper deck, meaning those who clamored for floor space experience something akin to a front row seat at a movie theater.

"Last Name" was among the songs performed up high, while "Church Bells" starts with Underwood rising from underneath the stage, Fender Stratocaster slung across her shoulder. She knew what to do with it. In fact, one of the under-appreciated facts about this star is how hard she's worked to learn new instruments. She didn't play harmonica on this night, but she strummed an acoustic, riffed on that electric and delicately played piano — all while soaring to reach high notes. While once Underwood relied too heavily on the power of her voice, she's now learned the power of nuance.

The tour works at a familiar pace and includes a soft middle during which the singer relies on ballads and more thoughtful mid-tempo tracks from her catalog, but the energy never dips. A medley of "Temporary Home," "See You Again," "I Know You Won't" (an unexpected album cut from Carnival Ride) and "Just a Dream" concludes with Underwood effortlessly impersonating Steven Tyler's high vocals on Aerosmith's "Dream On." Ten minutes later she's on her toes again reaching for and nailing the high notes of "Something In the Water." Then out come her friends.

An all-female moment was promised on this tour, so few were surprised to see Maddie & Tae and Runaway June return to the stage to join Underwood. The group trotted around the full 360, performing classic hits from female legends ("Stand By Your Man," "Coal Miner's Daughter") and more modern songs by contemporaries ("Independence Day," "Man! I Feel Like a Woman"). It was a giant 10-song break that was extraordinarily well-rehearsed and timed. This is, after all, only the first week of Underwood's tour, but once again everyone seemed to be in mid-season form.

"Before He Cheats" and "The Champion" close the main set, with Underwood taking time to spotlight a local singer named Jessica during the latter. The amateur crushed the vocal of Underwood's collaboration with Ludacris and the crowd loved every moment. There was barely a pause before her encore. "Cry Pretty" and "Love Wins" close her tour, which is something of a statement.

These are not her biggest hits — in fact, "Love Wins" didn't even crack the Top 10 on country radio — but the audience's response proved their popularity. The definition of "hit" is clearly changing. With some justice, the definition of "Entertainer of the Year" may soon be as well. It's not a man's world any longer. This is Carrie Underwood's EOTY Tour.

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