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Carrie Underwood’s face at the ACM Awards: A complete guide to an enduring mystery

Carrie Underwood told fans on Jan. 1 she is “not looking quite the same” following a November 2017 accident. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)
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On Sunday night at the Academy of Country Music Awards, country star Carrie Underwood appeared on television. Normally, this would not be a huge deal, as Underwood has consistently been in the spotlight since she won “American Idol” in 2005.

However, this time, Underwood was appearing in public for the first time since November, when she fell outside her home — and in January she revealed that she “might look a bit different” after a “gruesome” injury she suffered last fall.

As a result, Underwood’s face became a source of intense fascination, with myriad news articles every time she posted an Instagram photo. Then Sunday, she took her place on the ACM stage more than halfway through the telecast to perform her new single “Cry Pretty” … and she looked pretty much the same as she did before.

Confused? You’re definitely not the only one. Here’s a complete timeline about how Underwood’s reveal of her face became such a big deal:

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Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017: Underwood’s publicist releases a statement saying the star took a “hard fall” on the stairs outside her Nashville home on Friday night: “While there were no life-threatening injuries, she was taken to the hospital to be treated. She sustained multiple injuries including a broken wrist and some cuts and abrasions from the fall.” The Tennessean reported Underwood was released from the hospital, and canceled her appearance at a benefit concert at the Bridgestone Arena the following night.

Sunday, Nov. 12: Underwood sends her first tweet since the accident. “Thanks so much for all the well wishes everybody…I’ll be alright…might just take some time…glad I’ve got the best hubby in the world to take care of me,” she wrote, referring to her husband of more than seven years, hockey player Mike Fisher.

Wednesday, Nov. 15: Underwood confirms she had surgery on her wrist, tweeting, “I just wanted let everyone know that I’m doing great. Had surgery on my wrist yesterday & all went well…even though I’ll be setting off airport metal detectors from now on…I’m so thankful for the doctors, nurses, family & friends who’ve been taking such great care of me.” Fisher posts a statement on Instagram thanking fans for their support.

Sunday, Nov. 20: Underwood wins favorite female country artist at the American Music Awards, and writes an Instagram message saying she can’t attend but is honored to receive the prize.

Tuesday, Dec. 12: Adrienne Gang, one of the stars of Bravo’s reality show “Below Deck,” posts a picture of meeting Underwood after working out at an undisclosed location. This will become important later.

Wednesday, Dec. 27: After weeks under the radar, Underwood promotes a scarf from her clothing line, CALIA by Carrie. This image will also become significant.

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018: Underwood sends a letter to her fan club that reveals some upsetting news: Her injuries from the fall were actually much more serious than initially reported. “There is also another part of the story that I haven’t been ready to talk about, since I have still been living it and there has been much uncertainty as to how things will end up,” she writes in a post that quickly made its way around the Internet. “It’s crazy how a freak random accident can change your life.”

Underwood explains that along with a broken wrist, she injured her face. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but when I came out of surgery the night of my fall, the doctor told Mike that he had put between 40-50 stitches in,” she writes. “Now here we are 7 weeks later and, even though I’ve had the best people helping me, I’m still healing and not looking quite the same.”

“When I am ready to get in front of a camera, I want you all to understand why I might look a bit different,” she continues. “I’m hoping that, by then, the differences are minimal, but, again, I just don’t know how it’s all going to end up.”

Underwood adds she’s undergoing physical therapy on her wrist and says, “I am grateful that it wasn’t much, much worse.”

The Internet, to put it mildly, loses its mind. While there’s always a natural curiosity around celebrity accidents, this one hits a nerve, especially given the new details of 40-50 stitches. Suddenly, the above scarf photo covering her face makes sense. But then, others wonder, what about the photo with the “Below Deck” star? She doesn’t look that different, right? Questions consume social media users for quite some time.

Saturday, Jan. 6: During an NFL playoff game, NBC airs a preview of a new Underwood song called “The Champion” featuring Ludacris. It’s Underwood’s first new music since her “Storyteller” album in 2015, and immediately goes to No. 1 on iTunes when it’s released the following week. Could this mean Underwood will be seen in public soon? Nope, although the song also airs before the Super Bowl.

Saturday, Feb. 10: Underwood publishes the first picture of herself since the fall, with her adorable toddler son, Isaiah. This will start a new tradition of Underwood posting partial pictures of her face, and people of the Internet zooming in to see if they can tell what happened.

Friday, Feb. 23: Underwood posts a new picture that blocks most of her face, and as usual, it sparks different reactions: some supportive (“Stitches or no stitches, you’re still the beautiful girl we’ve always known”); some angry (“Just show your face already and stop playing these stupid games. It is getting really old”); and some angry that others are angry (“She does not owe you anything … she was hurt and [it] is her and her families business.”).

Wednesday, April 4: Underwood posts another picture, this time of her in the studio, hinting there will be new music soon. The headlines pour in that she has finally revealed “half” of her face.

Friday, April 6: Another cryptic photo (this time from far away) with no explanation.

Sunday, April 8: Underwood makes it official: She’ll drop a new single on Wednesday. So she must be performing it at the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 15? Since that’s one of the genre’s biggest events and she’s up for two awards?

Monday, April 9: Indeed! The ACM Awards announces Underwood will perform on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 10: Underwood reveals the single is titled “Cry Pretty,” which she wrote with hit Nashville songwriters Liz Rose, Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey. She also pens another letter to fans, saying, “First off, physically, I’m doing pretty darn good these days!”

“My wrist is almost back to normal, about 90% there…and the docs say that last 10% will come in time. And my face has been healing pretty nicely as well,” Underwood writes. “I definitely feel more like myself than I have in a while.”

Wednesday, April 11: Underwood releases “Cry Pretty,” which includes lyrics such as, “I apologize if you don’t like what you see, but sometimes my emotions get the best of me/And falling apart is as human as it gets, you can’t hide it, you can’t fight what the truth is.”

As NPR writes, ” ‘Cry Pretty’ sends a message ahead of that return: though her carefully maintained beauty is certainly a selling point, Underwood can only be as pretty as circumstances (and, perhaps, a top medical team) allow. And besides, it’s the voice that matters, not the look.”

Friday, April 13: Underwood releases another rehearsal photo before the ACM Awards — though not too close up.

Saturday, April 14: Underwood posts another photo from ACM rehearsal, this time very close-up.

Sunday, April 15: Here she is! Reaction on Twitter is a mix of impressed at Underwood’s vocals and confusion about all the hype leading up to the performance when she looks — well, not different than before.

At the end of her performance, Underwood gets a massive standing ovation from the audience. And when she comes back on stage a minute later to accept the award for vocal event of the year (“The Fighter” with Keith Urban), she’s still a bit emotional from the whole experience.

This post has been updated.

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