I hate “American Idol” and its contestants and winners thus far, save for Kelly Clarkson — and now Carrie Underwood. Clarkson and Underwood’s careers are quite similar in terms of releases: Both debut records were good but not great, each lacking that much-needed punch of charisma that no television show can create, no matter how much money is thrown at it. Then, the sophomore albums came — and they were fantastic. Both records broke the pop-star image that “Idol” tries so hard to protect and instead veered toward a more rock-oriented sound that was so desperately needed. And that is where Underwood’s Carnival Ride comes in. The most impressive thing about this record is the change in the Underwood persona. On Some Hearts, she was a singer; here, she’s a performer (basically, the opposite of what happened to Van Halen in 1985). The album plays like she was able to completely ignore the pressure of having to follow up a six-time platinum record. Basically, there is no sophomore slump here. That is not to say that she cannot sing anymore. She is simply the new Shania, although her voice can belt out songs with the best of them instead of the Shania talk-singing à la Bob Dylan. And it is a compelling voice at that — she has got pipes that arguably equate her to Christina Aguilera. To be sure, a big this new Underwood is aided greatly by the improved collection of songs on Carnival. Some Hearts suffered from having far too many mid-tempo plays for radio. Carnival, however, is pure fun with such up-tempo (dare I say rockin’?) numbers like “Flat on the Floor” and “Last Name.” There still may be one or two too many schmaltzy ballads (ahem, “You Won’t Find This”), but this time around, Underwood’s persona pulls the listener through anyway. This record does, however, have its flaws. Its biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: too many damn songwriters. With such top crafters as Brett James and Hillary Lindsey (who are, irritatingly, all over the Nashville scene), in addition to almost a dozen others, the only way for a country-pop singer to break from the tidal wave of others like her is personality. Certainly, with the same songwriters repeated over and over, setting herself apart will not happen through unique songwriting. (There is a genetic variation joke in there somewhere.) It would be nice to hear a song penned exclusively by Underwood, if only to see whether or not it could work. It would give her fans the intimacy that singer-songwriters have and that pop stars (of any genre) lack. But, as I said, it is also a big strength. Since Underwood has very little writing experience herself (cowriting one song on Some Hearts and four on Carnival), she needs professionals to craft pop gems with which to showcase her powerful voice. The writers guarantee that each song and the album as a whole will be meticulously crafted with the goal of coming as close to perfection as possible. Simply put, Carnival Ride is superior to Some Hearts in just about every conceivable way. Thus, if you enjoyed the latter then you will enjoy the former. This may not be Come On Over in style or substance, but it is still pretty damn good. Maybe Underwood should call Robert “Mutt” Lange.